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trespass

A wrongful direct interference with another person or with his possession of land or goods. In the middle ages, any wrongful act was called a trespass, but only some trespasses, such as trespass by force and arms (vi et armis), were dealt with in the King’s Courts. The distinguishing feature of trespass in modern law is that it is a direct and immediate interference with person or property, such as striking a person, entering his land, or taking away his goods without his consent. Indirect or consequential injury, such as leaving an unlit hole into which someone falls, is not trespass. Trespass is actionable per se, i.e. the act of trespass is itself a *tort and it is not necessary to prove that it has caused actual damage.

There are three kinds of trespass: to the person, to goods, and to land. Trespass to the person may be intentional or negligent, but since negligent physical injuries are remedied by an action for *negligence, the action for trespass to the person is now only brought for intentional acts, in the form of actions for *assault, *battery, and *false imprisonment. Trespass to goods includes touching, moving, or carrying them away (de bonis asportatis). It may be intentional or negligent, but *inevitable accident is a defence. Trespass to land usually takes the form of entering it without permission. It is no defence to show that the trespass was innocent (e.g. that the trespasser honestly believed that the land belonged to him). Trespass to land is a tort but not normally a crime: the notice 'Trespassers will be prosecuted' is therefore usually misleading. However, trespass may sometimes constitute a crime. Thus squatters may be guilty of a crime (see *adverse occupation); it is a crime to trespass on diplomatic or consular premises or premises similarly protected by immunity; and it is a crime to enter and remain on any premises as a trespasser with a *weapon of offence for which one has no authority or reasonable excuse, or to be on any premises, land, or water as a trespasser with a *firearm for which one has no reasonable excuse. Trespass may also be an element in *burglary. It is, however, a crime to use force against a trespasser, unless one is a displaced residential occupier.

Trespass to land or goods is a wrong to possession rather than to ownership. Thus a tenant of rented property, for example, has the right to sue for trespass to that property. See also *airspace; *trespass by relation.

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