EXTORTION (Lat. extorsio, from extorquere, to twist out, to take away by force), in English law the term applied to the exaction by public officers of money or money’s worth not due at all, or in excess of what is due, or before it is due. Such exaction, unless made in good faith (i.e. in honest mistake as to the sum properly payable), is a misdemeanour by the common law and is punishable by fine and (or) imprisonment. Besides the punishment above stated, an action for twice the value of the thing extorted lies against officers of the king (1275, 3 Edw. I. c. 26). There are numerous provisions for the punishment of particular officers who make illegal exactions or take illegal fees: e.g. sheriffs and their officers (Sheriffs Act 1887), county court bailiffs (County Courts Act 1888), clerks of courts of justice, and gaolers who exact fees from prisoners. A gaoler is also punishable for detaining the corpse of a prisoner as security for debt. The term “public officer” is not limited to offices under the crown; and there are old precedents of criminal proceedings for extortion against churchwardens, and against millers and ferrymen who demand tolls in excess of what is customary under their franchise.

The term extortion is also applied to the exaction of money or money’s worth by menaces of personal violence or by threats to accuse of crime or to publish defamatory matter about another person. These offences fall partly under the head of robbery and partly under blackmail, or what in French is termed chantage.

See Russell on Crimes (6th ed., vol. i. p. 423; vol. iii. p. 348).