Scroll Top

CAN AN INNOCENT PRANK GET YOU INTO LEGAL TROUBLE?

INTRODUCTION

Pranks are a popular way of entertainment among people which is gaining more popularity, especially on Youtube. However, what might seem like an innocent and playful prank to some could lead to serious legal consequences? Most of these videos are staged because pranking someone without their consent can lead to a variety of legal troubles, including criminal charges, fines, and even imprisonment. The legal consequences of pranking in India are not specifically governed by any “Prank Law” but various laws and regulations can be applied to the same, including the Indian Penal Code 1860[1] and Information Technology Act 2000[2]. Under these laws, actions that cause harm to someone’s physical or emotional well-being, damage property, or breach of privacy can be considered a criminal offences.

PRANKS OF CRIMINAL NATURE

Usually, when a crime is punished as per any type of penal code in India, two factors are considered to make it an offence- mens rea (guilty mind) and actus reus (guilty act).[3] Although it can be argued that when pranking someone, it lacks the factor of a guilty mind still it is covered in penal codes because of the legal concept- res ipsa loquitur (the thing speaks for itself).

The sections of the Indian Penal Code that are usually used in these situations are-

  1. Section 182[4]– if someone gives false information to a public officer, then this section is used. For example, a youngster in Hyderabad was arrested for creating a fake bomb threat. [5]
  2. Section 294 of the Indian Penal Code and Section 67 of the Information Technology Act- Both of these sections cover sharing of obscene data.
  3. Section 153, 153A, 295, 295A of the Indian Penal Code[6]– these sections cover the offence of spreading false news or statements concerning religious sentiments that can potentially lead to riots.

This list is not exhaustive in nature. If any prank is complex enough, it may attract more sections of the Indian Penal Code [7]or any other law.

CONCEPT OF NO CASUS OMISSUS

The pranks that are public in nature were covered in the previous head, but what about if a person pranks another which is more personal in nature? Then it is covered under civil law. But there is no specific law that governs the civil nature of these situations.

India is a country that has a common law legal system. This means that it focuses more on the principle of equity, justice and good conscience. It means that if a person is harmed even if that harm was unintentional and he approaches the court of law for justice, then the court will seek a way to give justice even if there is no specific law about it. This is what the concept of “no casus omissus” means. When translated to plain English, it means, no case should be omitted.

As stated by Lord Scarman-

“The Common Law covers everything which is not covered by the statute. It knows no gaps: there can be no case of omissus. The function of the court is to decide the case before it, even though the decision may require the extension or adaptation of a principle or in some cases the creation of a new law to meet the justice of the case.”[8]

This concept is of the Law of Torts. Although the Law of Torts evolved out of India, it began its development in India with the establishment of British Courts in India in the 1800s.[9] A Tort can be described in simple English as a civil wrong, usually, one which is not covered by any specific law.[10]

For example, by way of a practical joke, the defendant misrepresented to the plaintiff that her husband had been a victim of an unfortunate incident in which both of his legs had been broken. The plaintiff experienced a tremendous nervous shock as a result of this misrepresentation, became seriously ill, and her husband was forced to pay for her medical care.[11]

PRANKS THAT DO NOT HAVE ANY LEGAL CONSEQUENCE

Pranks which are just recordings of reactions of a person to a thing or situation on the street or any place are the only ones that don’t have any legal consequence because the people whose reactions are being recorded are in a public place and are witnessing some weird situation on the street, however, before publishing their reaction, it is even better for the prankster if he goes beyond and records their consent on video, audio or paper to avoid the rare situation where that particular person files a case of being filmed and being published without consent.

For example, in a popular show called ‘Just for laughs gags’, the majority of their videos involve some weird situation in which some person’s reaction is being recorded. It is also worth noting here that in the end, they reveal that the whole thing was a prank and after that, they ask if they can publish their reaction (which is the consent part, which is not displayed on the show). For instance, in one of its videos[12], a young girl calls for help to lift two buckets of coins, but no one was able to lift them, then the girl switches them for much lighter buckets which the stranger who came to help didn’t see, the girl can lift those buckets (which the stranger thinks to be the same heavy buckets) with ease. This type of prank is harmless and therefore would not attract any legal consequence whatsoever.

But if it is a prank where a person is throwing water balloons[13] and recording it to get laughs from the audience, then it is an offence because there is a physical temporary injury involved which can be labelled ‘hurt’ as given under the Indian Penal Code 1860[14].

HOW TO NEGATE THE LEGAL LIABILITY OF SUCH PRANKS

If consent is taken before performing such pranks then it would completely negate the legal consequences because of the concept of volenti non fit injuria (to a willing person, it is not a wrong). This concept is codified in the Indian Penal Code 1860[15] which provides a defence for the doer.

Many youngsters who want to go viral perform these pranks on people without consent and afterwards get into trouble because they didn’t even know about the ‘consent’ thing because other popular prank videos didn’t show the consent video (because it is necessary to take the consent but it is not mandatory to display that consent with the main prank video). Big prank shows like ‘Impractical Jokers’ cannot operate without consent, they usually display a disclaimer where it gives this information of consent. In case they don’t get the consent, they can still use the clip but they have to blur the face out or don’t use the clip at all.

CONCLUSION

To sum it up in one word- Yes, you can get into legal trouble if the prank is something that leads to some kind of injury (not necessarily physical). However, If the prank involves just their reaction to something then it is not affecting them in any way and therefore it is not attracting any section of any law. If the prank is of public nature then it would fall under any of the criminal code and if the prank is of personal nature then it would fall under civil laws. The remedy sought by the person also plays a role in determining whether the case is of civil or criminal nature.

Author(s) Name: Krishna Raj Sharma (Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Law University, Jaipur)

References:

[1] Indian Penal Code, 1860

[2] Information Technology Act, 2000

[3] Prof. T. Bhattacharyya, The Indian Penal Code (10th edn, Central Law Publication 2019)

[4] Indian Penal Code, 1860, s 182

[5] ‘Bomb hoax on trains: Curious youth from Hyderabad’s Sooraram made call just for effect’ (The Times of India, 15 April 2022) <https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/hyderabad/bomb-hoax-on-trains-curious-youth-made-call-just-for-effect/articleshow/90854786.cms> accessed 4 May 2023

[6] Indian Penal Code, 1860, s 153, 153A, 295, 295A

[7] Indian Penal Code, 1860

[8] Akshay Sapre, The Law of Torts (28th Edition, LexisNexis 2019) 3

[9] Ibid

[10] Ibid

[11] Wilkinson v. Downston [1897] 2 QB 57, 66 LJQB 493

[12] Just For Laughs Gags, ‘Strongest Girl in the World Prank’ (7 August 2012) < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Zs6mi5bvic> accessed 7 May 2023

[13] That Was Crazy, ‘Throwing Water Balloons From Wheelchair Prank’ (7 May 2023) < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yWI1DwcnoN0> accessed 8 May 2023

[14] Indian Penal Code 1860, s 319

[15] Indian Penal Code 1860, s 87