Meaning of Malice in Law

“Legal malice” or “malice in law” means ‘something done without lawful excuse’. In other words, ‘it is an act done wrongfully and wilfully without reasonable or probable cause, and not necessarily an act done from ill feeling and spite’. It is a deliberate act in disregard of the rights of others’. [See Words and Phrases legally defined in Third Edition, London Butterworths 1989].

Where malice is attributed to the State, it can never be a case of personal ill-will or spite on the part of the State. If at all, it is malice in legal sense, it can be described as an act which is taken with an oblique or indirect object. Prof. Wade in its authoritative work on Administrative Law [Eighth Edition at pg. 414] based on English decisions and in the context of alleged illegal acquisition proceedings, explains that an action by the State can be described mala fide if it seeks to ‘acquire land’ ‘for a purpose not authorised by the Act’. The State, if it wishes to acquire land, should exercise its power bona fide for the statutory purpose and for none other’.

The legal malice, therefore, on the part of the State as attributed to it should be understood to mean that the action of the State is not taken bona fide for the purpose of the Land Acquisition Act and it has been taken only to frustrate the favourable decisions obtained by the owner of the property against the State in the eviction and writ proceedings.

Supreme Court
State of A.P. & Ors vs Goverdhanlal Pitti, (2003) 4 SCC 739