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Defamation Laws in India: Meaning, Types, Civil, Criminal Example

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Defamation laws in India are considered both criminal which is a punishable offense leading to imprisonment and civil offense which is punishable leading to the award of damages. Civil defamation is punishable under the law of torts and criminal defamation is codified under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (“IPC”).

Today in this article we will cater to Defamation Laws in India: Meaning, Types, Cases, Examples. Along with this, we will learn about the defamation law of torts and the defense of defamation.

► What is Defamation?

Defamation is considered as any intentional false communication about a person that can be either in written or spoken form, that harms and damages a person’s reputation and image decreases the respect in society, and inappropriate or disagreeable opinions, thoughts, and feelings against a person are termed as defamation.

In other words, we can also say that defamation is a wrong thing by a person to another’s image by words, written or spoken, and other possible ways.

◉ Defamation Meaning

Defamation as the meaning of the word suggests is harm and damage to the reputation or image of a person resulting from a statement( spoken or written) that is false and untruthful.

A defamatory statement made against a person is one that is false and has certain of the following effects on that particular person:

  • lowers their respect and quality of being ‘right-thinkers’
  • People generally, disparage them in their business, work, trade, and  profession
  • exposes them to hate, disrespect and contempt
  • causes them to be abandoned and avoid them

Definition of Defamation

Defamation laws in India are defined Under Section 499: Whoever, by words either spoken or intended to be read, or by signs or by visible representations, makes or publishes any imputation concerning any person intending to harm, or knowing or having reason to believe that such imputation will harm, the reputation of such person, is said, except in the cases hereinafter expected, to defame that person.

Defamation is also defined as a communication to some person or group of people despite the person being defamed, of the matter which tends to lower the reputation and estimation of right-thinking persons.

✔ Definition of defamation by various scholars:

“Defamation is the publication of a statement which tends to lower a person in the estimation of right-thinking members of the society, generally or, which tends to make them shun or avoid that person.” – Dr. Winfield

“Defamation consists in the publication of a false and defamatory statement concerning another without lawful justification”. – Salmond

“Defamation is the publication of a false and defamatory statement concerning another without just cause or excuse, whereby he suffers an injury to his reputation”. – Underhill

In simple words defamation can also be defined as:

  • An imputation lowers the person in the estimation of correct thinking of the  people
  • An imputation is like harming a person’s reputation and image by exposing them to hate, contempt, and disrespect
  • An imputation that intends to avoid, ignore and abandon a person.

► Defamation Laws in India

Article 19 of the Constitution has given many freedoms to the citizens. But, Article 19(2) has imposed reasonable limitations on freedom of speech and expression which is granted under Article 19(1) (a).

Along with this, there are some exceptions which include Contempt of court, defamation, and incitement to an offense.

Defamation laws in India are considered both a criminal offense which is a punishable offense leading to imprisonment and a civil offense which is punishable leading to the award of damages.

Civil defamation is punishable under the law of torts and criminal defamation is codified under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (“IPC”).

Hence a policeman may arrest only with an arrest warrant issued by a magistrate. Through defamation laws in India.

Defamation laws in India; The Indian Penal Code punishes the offense with simple imprisonment which can be of up to two years, along with a fine, or both.

► Elements of Defamation

  • First, there should be the presence of defamatory content.
  • Second, the claimant or defamed person should be identified or recognized in the defamatory statement.
  • Third, there must be a publication or proof of the defamatory statement in any of the forms either oral or written.

Civil Defamation Laws in India:

The statements made should be false or untrue and they must be made without the permission of the defamed person. Monetary compensation can also be claimed from the person who defamed a particular person.

There are certain essential requirements for proper defamation under the defamation laws in India suit. They are as follows:

  1. The presence of a defamatory statement is required.
  2. Secondly, the defamatory statements given by someone must claim to a person or a class of persons.
  3. It must be published and there should be any proof either in oral or written form.

✔ The presence of a defamatory statement is required.

Defamatory content is one that tends to harm the reputation of a person or a class of persons by disclosing them to hatred, contempt, or disrespect. The test of whether it harms the image is calculated from the eyes of a common person.

✔ Secondly, the defamatory statements given by someone must claim to a person or a class of persons.

General and basic statements like all “policemen take bribe” is too common and no specific policemen can claim any kind of compensation for the same.

✔ It must be published and there should be any proof either in oral or written form.

Unless the content, statement, or any such thing is made available to a third person, there can be no defamation possible. In case a letter is sent to a person in a language unknown to the recipient, he/she needs a third person to read the letter to him.

If any kind of defaming statement is there in it, it will be considered defamation even if the letter was private, since a third person was required to read the letter.

Once all these necessary conditions are fulfilled, and finally, a successful defamation suit subsists.

The defendant can plead defenses that:

  1. The statement published was true,
  2. Fair comments made with public interest based on true incidents,
  3. Specific persons are given the privilege to make some statements even if they are defamatory,

Example judicial proceedings and members of parliament. If the defendant fails to defend his actions, the suit is considered successful.

Criminal Defamation Laws in India:

In the case of criminal Defamation simple imprisonment may be awarded. Under a criminal suit, the person should necessarily have an intention to defame.

The allegation has to be made with malice purpose to defame another or at the least the expertise that the publication is probable to defame another is essential.

It must be proved beyond reasonable doubt that the act was being achieved to decrease the recognition of another.

Defamation laws in India under section 499 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 define defamation and its exceptions:

Words or signs imputed intending to harm or with the knowledge that such imputation will cause harm. It may amount to defamation if anything is imputed against a deceased person if such imputation would harm the reputation had the person been alive.

The class of persons shall include companies or associations. It is no defamation unless the alleged defamatory statement either directly or indirectly lowers the moral or intellectual character or the respect of his caste or his calling in the estimation of others.

Exceptions

Persons who make defamatory statements are spared from punishments if they fall under the category of one of the ten exceptions provided in Section 499. They are described as follows:
  1. Imputation of truth which public good requires to be made or published.
  2. Public conduct of public servants.
  3. Conduct of any person touching any public question.
  4. Publication of reports of proceedings of courts.
  5. Merits of a case decided in Court or conduct of witnesses and others concerned.
  6. Merits of public performance.
  7. Censure is passed in good faith by a person having lawful authority over another.
  8. Accusation preferred in good faith to authorized person.
  9. Imputation is made in good faith by a person for the protection of his or others’ interests.
  10. Caution is intended for good of a person to whom conveyed or for the public good.

✔ Imputation of truth which public good requires to be made or published.

It is not defamation to impute anything which is true concerning any person if it is for the public good that the imputation should be made or published. Whether or not it is for the public good is a question of fact.

✔ Public conduct of public servants.

It is not defamation to express in good faith any opinion whatever respecting the conduct of a public servant in the discharge of his public functions, or respecting his character, so far as his character appears in that conduct, and no further.

✔ Conduct of any person touching any public question.

It is not defamation to express in good faith any opinion whatever respecting the conduct of any person touching any public question, and respecting his character, so far as his character appears in that conduct, and no further.

✔ Publication of reports of proceedings of courts.

It is not defamation to publish a substantially true report of the proceedings of a Court of Justice, or of the result of any such proceedings.

✔ Merits of a case decided in Court or conduct of witnesses and others concerned.

It is not defamation to express in good faith any opinion whatever respecting the merits of any case, civil or criminal, which has been decided by a Court of Justice, or respecting the conduct of any person as a party, witness, or agent, in any such case, or respecting the character of such person, as far as his character appears in that conduct, and no further.

✔ Merits of public performance.

It is not defamation to express in good faith any opinion respecting the merits of any performance which its author has submitted to the judgment of the public, or respecting the character of the author so far as his character appears in such performance, and no further.

✔ Censure is passed in good faith by a person having lawful authority over another.

It is not defamation in a person having over another any authority, either conferred by law or arising out of a lawful contract made with that other, to pass in good faith any censure on the conduct of that other in matters to which such lawful authority relates.

✔ Accusation preferred in good faith to authorized person.

It is not defamation to prefer in good faith an accusation against any person to any of those who have lawful authority over that person with respect to the subject matter of accusation.

✔ Imputation is made in good faith by a person for the protection of his or others’ interests.

It is not defamation to make an imputation on the character of another provided that the imputation be made in good faith for the protection of the interests of the person making it, or of any other person, or for the public good.

✔ Caution is intended for good of a person to whom conveyed or for the public good.

It is not defamation to convey a caution, in good faith, to one person against another, provided that such caution is intended for the good of the person to whom it is conveyed, or of some person in whom that person is interested, or for the public good.

Also Read :Essential Element of Valid Contract

► What is the Defamation Law of Torts?

Defamation is considered as any intentional false communication about a person that can be either in written or spoken form, that harms and damages a person’s reputation and image decreases the respect in society, and inappropriate or disagreeable opinions, thoughts, and feelings against a person are termed as defamation.

According to Scrutton LJ, a defamatory statement is a false statement about a man to his discredit’.

◉ Criminal and Civil Defamation

✔ Criminal Defamation:

In the case of criminal Defamation simple imprisonment may be awarded. Under a criminal suit, the person should necessarily have an intention to defame.

The allegation has to be made with malice purpose to defame another or at the least the expertise that the publication is probable to defame another is essential.

It must be proved beyond reasonable doubt that the act was being achieved to decrease the recognition of another.

✔ Civil Defamation:

The statements made should be false or untrue and they must be made without the permission of the defamed person.

Monetary compensation can also be claimed from the person who defamed a particular person.

There are certain essential requirements for proper defamation under the defamation laws in India suit.

◉ Libel and Slander-

English Law: Due to many historical reasons, under English law defamation is divided into two types Libel and Slander.

✔ Libel:

Libel defamation involves the act of publishing a statement about an individual, either in written form in the newspaper, letters, etc or by broadcasting the statement over media platforms such as radio, television, or the Internet, that is untrue and tends to harm the reputation or image and/or livelihood of the particular targeted person. Libel is considered a civil wrong and its provisions are according to the lawsuit.

✔ Slander:

The term ‘slander’ refers to false and untrue statements made by one person against another. Slander defamation is communicated verbally or orally with the intention to defame the person of the statements.

► Essentials of Defamation Laws in India

There are mainly three essentials of Defamation.

  1. The statement delivered must be published.
  2. The statement given must refer to the plaintiff.
  3. A defamatory statement must be published.

✔ 1. The statement delivered must be published: Defamation is the publication of a statement either in libel or slander form that aims to lower a person in the estimation of right-thinking people of society or which aims to make them shun, disrespect, or avoid that person.

For Example, In South Indian Railway Co. v. Ramakrishna; A ticket checker of a railway asking for identity proof to people and other documents for checking as a part of his duty is not considered defamation, as he has not published any kind of defamatory statement to any of the passengers.

✔ 2. The statement given must refer to the plaintiff: If the person to whom the particular defamatory statement was published could prove that the statement referred to the plaintiff, the defendant is considered liable.

For Example, The Delhi High Court in the case of Harsh Mendiratta and Maharaj Singh said that” an action for defamation was maintainable only by the person who was defamed and not by his friends or relatives”.

✔ 3. A defamatory statement must be published: Publication basically refers to making the defamatory statement known to some person other than the defamed person and unless this is done, no civil action for defamation is there.

For Example, In the case of Mahender Ram and  Harnandan Prasad-A letter was written in Urdu which was sent to the plaintiff. The plaintiff was not able to read it so he required another person to read the letter to him.

  • It was observed that since the defendant knew that the plaintiff does not know the Urdu language and he would most probably need the assistance of someone, the act of the defendant amounted to defamation.

► Defenses Available

There are three types of defenses available in defamation namely –

◉ 1. Justification or truth

if the given statement is truthful, it will not be considered defamatory, no matter how damaging the statement is, the honest opinion should be there in the statement.

It must;

  • (i) be an expression of opinion,
  • (ii) it must indicate the right opinion, and
  • (iii) the opinion must be one such opinion that is given by a truthful person in possession of the accurate facts and figures at the time.

In the case of criminal law, only proving that the given statement was right is no defense but in the case of civil law only showing the truth is a good defense.

◉ 2. Fair Comment

  • The comment or statement given must be an expression of opinion it should not be an assertion of fact.
  • The comment or statement given must be fair i.e. without any kind of malice.
  •  The matter upon which the comment is given must be of public interest.

◉ 3. Privilege

There are certain moments when the law recognized that the right to freedom of speech outweighs the person’s right to reputation, the law treats those certain moments as ‘Privileged’. These are further two types –

✔ Absolute privilege- It basically gets applied to Parliamentary Privilege, certain Judicial proceedings, and various State communication.

✔ Qualified privilege- It is compulsory that the statement must be given have been without any kind of malice. In this, the defendant has to prove that statement made by him/her was made on a certain privileged occasion fairly.

► Types of Defamation in India

There are two types of defamation:

  • Slander (communicated verbally)
  • Libel  (communicated by written form)

Let us now discuss these types of defamation in brief:

Slander Defamation Laws in India

  • The term ‘slander’ refers to false and untrue statements made by one person against another. Slander defamation is communicated verbally or orally with the intention to defame the person of the statements.
  • Slander is a term used legally to describe defamation or the act of harming a person or its belonging’s reputation by telling one or a group of people something that is false and disrespectful about them.
  • Defamation takes place when someone’s words cause harm to another person’s reputation, feelings, or business. It should be taken care that a statement must be represented as fact, not a particular opinion, in order to be slander. The statement made must be in the third person.
  • For example, When you dictate say defamatory comments to your clerk, peon, or housekeeper who in turn will type it on letterhead for the communication that is going to take place for the third person through that particular speech. Thus, in the above case, the mode of transmission of information is transient.

✔ Some key takeaways of slander defamation

  • Slander is the term used legally to describe untrue statements made by one person against another.
  • It is a type of defamation that is communicated orally to a third person, which is not permanent.
  • The subject of slanderous statements can pursue legal action with the help of defamation laws in India against the slander.
  • Slander is totally different from libel, where untrue statements are made in print or broadcast.

Libel Defamation Laws in India

  • Libel defamation involves the act of publishing a statement about an individual, either in written form in the newspaper, letters, etc or by broadcasting the statement over media platforms such as radio, television, or the Internet, that is untrue and tends to harm the reputation or image and/or livelihood of the particular targeted person. Libel is considered a civil wrong and its provisions are according to the lawsuit.
  • Libel basically represents the published or broadcasted statement of defamation. Defamation usually occurs when an individual’s words damage another person’s reputation or ruin their ability to earn a living.
  • Persons who commit libel can be subjected to civil in court, and, in the past, criminal penalties.

✔ Some key takeaways of libel defamation

  • Libel is a category or type of defamation that includes defamatory statements which tend to defame someone and are published or broadcasted.
  • Libel is a tort that falls under common law for which a defamed party can sue for damages to the one who defamed them.
  • Pure opinions and feelings, true statements, statements in the favour of public interest, and some criticism of public figures like actors, politicians, etc, may be protected against claims of libel.

► Defense of Defamation Laws in India

The main defenses to a defamation claim are:

◉ Truth and Justification

If the given statement is truthful, it will not be considered defamatory, no matter how damaging the statement is, an honest opinion should be there in the statement; it must

  • (i) be an expression of opinion.
  • (ii) it must indicate the basis of the right opinion, and
  • (iii) the opinion must be one such opinion that could have been held by a truthful person in possession of the accurate facts and figures at the time.

◉ Public Interest

If that particular statement was published or said because this was believed at that point of time to be in the public interest and beneficial for them in some terms

◉ Privilege

In certain situations in which an otherwise defamatory statement is given, will prevent claims from being brought for eg- during a parliamentary debate or at the time of judicial proceedings consent.

if an individual consented to the publication of the defamatory statements or accepted an apology, then they would not be allowed to bring the case in an action

Examples of Defamation Cases in India

In the Indian courts, a variety of defamation cases were filed. Defamation laws in India were broken in these cases. Some of these prominent cases having interesting facts and figures are discussed below:

◉ The case of Manjulatha and D. P. Choudhary

A publication was published in a local newspaper named ‘Dainik Navjyothi’. The publication stated that the 17-year-old college girl went out of the house by saying she was having lectures but she ran away with a boy.

This false news item had unfavorable effects on her and which lead to ruining her marriage prospects. This case of civil defamation was actionable and later she was awarded damages of Rs.10000/- by way of general damages.

◉ The case of Harnansan and Mahendra Ram

A letter was written in Urdu which was sent to the plaintiff. The plaintiff was not able to read it so he required another person to read the letter to him.

It was observed that since the defendant knew that the plaintiff does not know the Urdu language and he would most probably need the assistance of someone, the act of the defendant amounted to defamation.

◉ The case of Arun Jaitley and Arvind Kejriwal

The court announced that statements made by Arvind Kejriwal and his five other leaders were defamatory. But later the matter was solved when all the defendants made an apology for their actions.