Distinction between Trespass and Conversion

(1) Trespass is essentially a wrong to the actual possessor and therefore cannot be committed by a person in possession. Conversion, on the other hand, is a wrong to the person entitled to immediate possession.

(2) To damage or meddle with the chattel of another, but without intending to exercise an adverse possession over it, is a trespass. In an action for conversion, the defendant\’s intended act must amount to denial to the plaintiff’s right /title to the goods to which he is lawfully entitled. Thus, removing the goods from one place to another may be trespass but it is not conversion.

(3) The gist of the action, in trespass is the force and direct injury inflicted; in conversion, it is the deprivation of the goods or their use. If a person snatches my gold ring with a view to steal it, the act amounts to both trespass and conversion. But if a person borrows my ring for his use but later on sells it he will be liable for conversion only.

Distinction between Detinue and Conversion

Dentine is distinct from conversion in that the latter is never available where there is mere detention without any wrong to the plaintiff’s title, as conversion is essentially a wrong to one’s ownership of goods and involves misuse and appropriation of goods. It may be noted that under old English law, detinue had a great disadvantage in that a defendant under that action can defeat the plaintiff’s claim by getting a number of compurgators to swear in his favour although in fact they knew nothing of the facts of the case. No wonder, that in course of time, honest sufferers when faced with such a risk gave up this remedy and began to favour the more effective remedy of conversion.