What Is Malicious Prosecution?

Legal processes can be –  and have been –  used as a malicious tool. In some cases, this can lead to unjust criminal allegations brought against an innocent person.

When a situation like this occurs, the innocent party may pursue a malicious prosecution case. In these cases, the Plaintiff is the person previously accused and prosecuted with a crime or wrongdoing, and they seek full acquittal or exoneration.

Importantly, to win a malicious prosecution case, four elements must be established by the plaintiff. This is known as the malicious prosecution test. The case of Hall v. Niagara (Police Services Board), 2022 ONCA 288, gives us an example of how this test is used in the courts.

The Case: Hall v. Niagara (Police Services Board)

On December 21, 2009, a flash explosion in an electrical cabinet at the GM plant in St. Catharines, Ontario caused an electrical outage. An investigation team concluded that the likely cause of the electrical outage was an arc flash explosion. This type of explosion could be caused by someone trying to take a copper bar from an electrical cabinet, which was consistent with incidents of copper being stolen that had occurred in the past.

The GM investigation team reached out to the Niagara Police for assistance. Det. Magistrale of the Niagara Police department became the lead detective on the investigation. This investigation eventually led to the arrest of the security guard who was on duty the evening of the outage, Mr. Hall. Mr. Hall was subsequently terminated from his employment with Securitas, the security contractor for the Glendale GM plant.

The Outcome

The court case against Mr. Hall took place in July 2012. Ultimately, Mr. Hall was found not guilty by Justice Wilkie. Wilkie stated that he felt a “sliver of doubt” as to whether or not Mr. Hall was truly the person responsible for the attempted theft of the copper bar.

After being found not guilty, Mr. Hall launched a civil action Niagara Police Services Board in July of 2014. In determining whether Mr. Hall was maliciously prosecuted, the trial judge applied the test for malicious prosecution as set out by McIntyre J. in Nelles v. Ontario, [1989] 2 S.C.R. 170, at p. 204.

The trial judge found that Det. Magistrale was liable for malicious prosecution. Furthermore, the Police Services Board was found liable for the action of Det. Magistrale.

The Test for Malicious Prosecution

There are four elements to the test for malicious prosecution. These four elements must be established by the plaintiff and are as follows:

  1. The proceedings must have been initiated by the defendant;
  2. The proceedings must have terminated in favour of the plaintiff;
  3. The plaintiff must show that the proceedings were instituted without reasonable cause; and
  4. The defendant was actuated by malice.

The first two elements did not require consideration as they were found to be satisfied. Mr. Hall had initiated this civil action and he initiated this civil action after proceedings terminated in his favor (i.e. he was found not guilty).  

With the first two elements satisfied without contestation, it was the latter two elements that the trial judge focused on.

In regard to the third element, namely ‘the plaintiff must show that the proceedings were instituted without reasonable cause’, the trial judge’s key question was whether Det. Magistrale had objective and subjective reasonable and probable grounds to make the arrest.

With respect to objective reasonable and probable grounds, the trial judge found that the investigation against Mr. Hall was both incomplete and improper. She also recognized the challenges to circumstantial evidence gathered in support of that investigation. In terms of subjective reasonable and probable grounds, she found that the detective was not credible in his assertion that he believed he had reasonable and probable grounds. This meant he also lacked subjective reasonable and probable grounds.

The fourth element, that the defendant was actuated by malice, was also found to be satisfied. The trial judge found that Det. Magistrale acted with an improper purpose in his prosecution, engaged in inappropriate conduct during the trial, had inaccuracies in his police notes, and provided testimony that amounted to deliberate falsehoods.

For all of these reasons, the trial judge found that Det. Magistrale was liable to Mr. Hall for malicious prosecution. By extension, the Niagara Police Services Board was also liable for the actions of their officer. In addition, the appellants were liable for negligent investigation as well as false arrest.

The appellants raised three issues in their appeal. These were:

  1. That the trial judge misapplied the law relating to reasonable and probable grounds in the context of malicious prosecution.
  2. That the trial judge misapplied the law relating to malice in the context of malicious prosecution.
  3. That the trial judge erred in her award of damages.
  4. That the respondent cross-appeals against the trial judge’s award of costs.

All four of these appeals were dismissed and Mr. Hall was awarded his full damages.

Unfairly Arrested, Charged, and/or Prosecuted?

Our legal system is designed to protect the innocent and deliver justice to the guilty. But, sometimes, legal processes can be used with malintent. Fortunately, there are avenues for correcting these situations. In the case of Hall v Niagara, a man who was maliciously prosecuted received justice.

If you feel that you’ve been unfairly arrested, charged, or prosecuted, we can help. Contact Sharma Law to find out what your next steps are.

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