Abuse of process is a type of civil tort in which someone utilizes an aspect of the legal process for a purpose which is considered unlawful, such as harassment, intimidation, or simple inconveniencing. This tort differs from malicious prosecution, in which a suit with no legal grounds is filed, in that there may be grounds for the case in court, but the legal process is abused to accomplish an unlawful goal. For example, someone could file suit for a debt, an entirely legal activity, but use the suit to intimidate the debtor in court, which is not legal.
In abuse of process, a writ, summons, judgment, or deposition is used for a purpose which is unlawful. For example, someone could use a deposition to intimidate someone, or could serve papers on someone with the goal of harassing that person. Another form of abuse of process might be a case in which someone files a legal suit with the specific goal of harassing and inconveniencing someone by making that person show up in court.
The person involved in abuse of process may have a malicious intent, and may be a lawyer or a citizen using a lawyer to accomplish unlawful goals in the legal system. There are sometimes cases in which a situation looks like abuse of process, but actually isn't, as a result of having incomplete information. If it can be proved that a lawyer or party acted in good faith, it is not considered abuse of process.
If abuse of process is suspected, it is advisable to consult a lawyer to get more information and suggestions about how to proceed. In cases where someone is the object of a suit, the lawyer retained to handle the suit can determine whether or not abuse of process is occurring. In other instances, a lawyer who handles civil torts can examine the specifics of the case and provide advice.
Proving abuse of process can be challenging, and courts are often reluctant to pursue it. The primary reason for this is a concern that it may result in a chilling effect. Most nations want to protect the right of access to the legal system and the courts, and there is a concern that some abuse of process cases are nebulous and hard to define, and that ruling in favor of the person bringing suit could result in barring legitimate cases or actions in the future.