April 23, 2024

Amrit Pratim Mishra

Xavier Law school, XIM University, Bhubaneswar


Motive is generally known to be a cause that inspires individuals to induce a specific thinking /state of mind into considerable action. However, in law, the motive is not an essential factor for a tortious action to be maintained. A motive can also be explained as a person’s state of mind which encourages them to perform a certain act, which can/cannot be considered by law. It usually means the particular purpose of the act’s commission. Just like intention, the motive has no relevance in the law of torts. The ultimate cause here is an intention, which is moreover caused by motive, i.e., motive leads to intention formation. Intention can be understood as the immediate purpose of a particular motive which is generally the ultimate object resulting in an act.

It can be understood that there need not have a motive or intention for a tortious act to be performed, whether knowingly or unknowingly. If a tortious act is performed without having a motive/intention, this particular fact of not having ‘motive/intentions’ cannot be used as a defense.

The above paragraph can be understood by the CASE LAW explained :

– Bradford Corporation Vs. Pickles(1895) AC 595

   In this particular case, the decisions of Lord Watson and Lord Halsbury can be treated as one of the very earliest and evident decisions that merely settled that a motive/intention is referred to as being irrelevant in tort law.

Here, the PLAINTIFF’s owned land below which there were specific water springs purposely used for the work of supplying water to Bradford town for over more than 40 subsequent years. However, there was a natural reservoir under the DEFENDANT’s land, and the flow of water is from that particular reservoir under the springs of the PLAINTIFF’s. Later on, however, the DEFENDANT sank a shaft, resulting in the alteration of water flow. Following this, it significantly reduced the amount of water that was flowing into the spring of the PLAINTIFF’s. However, there was sufficient proof that the DEFENDANT was just following his particular course of action, not to give himself any immediate advantage but apparently depriving the PLAINTIFF’S source of water. 

In conclusion, the PLAINTIFF merely claimed that the deeds of the DEFENDANT were malicious and that they had the mere right to an injunction to stop the DEFENDANT from acting this way, resulting in the deprivation of water source from the PLAINTIFF’S.

Prior to this CASE,

Lord Watson Held: No use of property, which would be merely legal if due to a proper motive, can become illegal because it is apparently prompted by a motive/intention that could be improper or moreover could be malicious.

Lord Halsbury Held: It’s not a case where the state of mind of the person doing the act can affect the right to do it. If it was a lawful act, however ill the motive might be, he had a right to do it.

To conclude, motive/intentions aren’t a vital factor for an act to be a tortious one.

It can be said that even if there’s no motive of doing any particular act, it can still be categorized as an tortious act. Also, having a motive can also lead to some acts which could be carried out even if it is unlawful.

Some more CASE Laws to refer :

  1. Allen v. Flood [1898] AC 1
  2. Town Area Committee V. Prabhu Dayal[ AIR 1975 All 132]
  3. Vishnu Basudeo V. T.H.S Pearse[ AIR 1949 NAG 364]

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