Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Justification Definition:

An answer or defence to an allegation of wrongful conduct that the act or omission, though admittedly committed, was not wrongful in all the circumstances.

Related Terms: Self-Defence, Qui Jussu Judicis Aliquod Fecerit, Non Videtur Dolo Malo Fecisse, Quia Parere Necesse Est

Justification is a defence in both criminal cases as well as tort cases. In Perka v The Queen, a criminal law case, Canada's Supreme Court used these words:

"A justification challenges the wrongfulness of an action which technically constitutes a crime. The police officer who shoots the hostage-taker, the innocent object of an assault who uses force to defend himself against his assailant, the Good Samaritan who commandeers a car and breaks the speed laws to rush an accident victim to the hospital, these are all actors whose actions we consider rightful, not wrongful. For such actions people are often praised, as motivated by some great or noble object."

In tort, consider these words of Justice of the Albert Court of Appeal in 369413 Alberta Ltd. v. Pocklington:

"In some situations, a defendant’s plea of justification may avoid liability. The defence of justification is available when the defendant caused the breach while acting under a duty imposed by law. The issue in each case is whether, upon consideration of the relative significance of all the factors, the defendant’s conduct should be tolerated despite its detrimental effect on the interests of others."

Also known as the choice of evils defence, and derived from the common law doctrine of necessity.

In the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, Justice Papadakos presiding (Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Berrigan), in a tort case:

"The defense of justification will lie only where the actor offers evidence that will demonstrate: 1) that the actor was faced with a public disaster that was clear and imminent, not debatable or speculative; 2) that the actor could reasonably expect that the actions taken would be effective in avoiding the immediate public disaster; 3) that there is no legal alternative which will be effective in abating the immediate public disaster; 4) that no legislative purpose exists to exclude the justification from the particular situation faced by the actor."

Self-defence is a classic example of justification.

Justification means that the act complained of was lawful, and it is defeated by evidence of malice.1

In Townsend v US, Justice Miller of the United States Court of Appeals used these words:

"Justification, sufficient to offset willfulness, may mean a sufficient lawful reason for acting, or failing to act. Thus, justification may exist for the killing of a human being, because of imminent danger of death or of great bodily harm either to the killer or to a member of his family, or in the execution of a sentence of death; as against an accusation for escape, that the accused was illegally confined; as against an accusation of robbery, that the property was contraband of war; as against an accusation of kidnapping, that the custody of the child had been awarded to the accused; or in case of an officer of a vessel charged with the withholding of vegetable food from the crew, because of long delay in reaching port on account of stress of weather.

"Justification may also be based upon a mistake of fact by the defendant, where his mistake is a reasonable one and where the fact — if it were as he believed it to be — would have constituted justification. A familiar example is that of the defendant who kills in self-defense because he reasonably believes that he is in danger of death and that the only way to save his life is by killing his assailant."

In the context of trespass, Justice Halfyard of the British Columbia Supreme Court adopted these words, in Defrane v. Argo Construction Ltd.:

"The gist of the defence of justification is that a defendant is entitled to enter upon the land of the plaintiff, without the plaintiff’s consent where such entry is reasonably necessary for the preservation of the property of the person entering, or of the person whose land is entered, or for the preservation of life."

In the context of defending a defamation claim, consider these words:

"The defence of justification is that the words as written in their natural and ordinary meaning are true in substance and in fact.

"The primary defence of all of the defendants is one of justification, that is that the words written, in their natural and ordinary meaning are true in substance and in fact. A defendant is not necessarily required to prove the literal truth of every word of the libel alleged. If the defendant can prove the sting or the main charge of the words is true, it is not necessary to prove the truth of statements or comments which do not add to the sting of the charge or introduce any matter by itself actionable.

"As there is a presumption that any defamatory expression is false, plaintiffs need only establish that the alleged defamatory words were published. The onus of proving the statements are true is on defendants."2

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