“DEFAMATION UNDER LAW OF TORTS”

Author: Aditi Bansal,

Law College Dehradun, Uttarakhand




INTRODUCTION:

The concept of ‘defamation’ originated from English law, as multiple doctrines of similar nature existed there previously. This was duly recognized in Roman law as well, as there was capital punishment if someone was believed to have delivered abusive chants. Roman law aimed to give a person enough scope for discussing another person’s character while protecting the person being discussed from unnecessary insult and pain. During the early period of German and English law, a person’s tongue was cut if he/she gave any defamatory statements. Over the years, there have been multiple reforms in the offence’s definition and prescribed punishment, as both have been stated more clearly. This article further throws light on defamation under the law of Torts in India.


MEANING, SCOPE & EXCEPTIONS:

The term ‘defamation’ in simple terms is the act of a person to cause harm to a person’s reputation (fame) in eyes of a third party. It is one of the significant offences under Tort Law and is a very malicious act. It has been defined under Section 499[1] of the IPC. The meaning inferred from the definition is, if any person by way of spoken words, written words, by any signs, by visual depiction, does any misconduct or conduct worthy of being alleged (imputation) to harm or with the belief that such misconduct will harm the reputation of another person, is said to have defamed the other person. However, the intent is irrelevant in cases of defamation.

Such an action might result in defamation, as it might tarnish the reputation of a person, whether living or dead. A defamatory action might be intended to be hurtful for the person’s family or relatives as well. It may also affect a person’s company or associations. This kind of misconduct, even if indirectly expressed might add up to defamation. It is a mandate that the affected person’s reputation must have been harmed or lowered in front of a third person. It might lower the person’s intellect, or character, or any other trait that might stain his goodwill. It leads to the creation of a bad impression of that person in front of a third person. It is of two types, libel, i.e., written form and slander, i.e., oral form of defamation.

The case of Abk Prasad v. Union of India & Ors.[2] is considered one of the landmark judgements. The above-mentioned case has laid down ten exceptions, which have been explained below:

1. If any imputation made against a person is true and is made for the public’s welfare in some way or the other is not defamatory, provided that it will benefit the public for sure.

2. In case the accusation is on a public servant, regarding the exercise of his public duty or function, or concerning his character, or his conduct, it is not considered as defamation.

3. As long as a person expresses something about another, to a matter of good faith, that expression would not be regarded as defamation. Respecting the person’s character, towards whom the statement has been intended is a mandate.

4. Anything which is published as a result of Court Proceedings does not fall under the category of defamation.

5. It is not defamation to comment on cases in good faith, provided the merits of the decided case, criminal or civil case, is respected. Also, the conduct and character of the party, witness or agent are to be respected in any such case, to the extent to which his character appears in his conduct.

6. If opinions are expressed concerning someone’s written work in good faith, or if someone’s work receives literacy criticism, then such criticism does not fall in the category of defamation.

7. If an authoritative person passes a censure over the other, either conferred by law or arising out of lawful contract which has been made with that person, in good faith and where the authority is relatable lawfully, such censure is not considered as defamatory.

8. If any person is accused in good faith, or one who is accused by someone having lawful authority over him with respect to the subject-matter of allegation or accusation, it is not counted as defamation.

9. It does not count as defamation if a person makes any assertion on another person’s character if the assertion or imputation is made in good faith to protect the personal interests, or of any other person, or for public welfare.

10. In case a caution is conveyed to a person against another in his good faith or in that of a person in whom he is interested in, or for the public good, then it is not defamation. The case of Bilal Ahmed Kaloo v. State of Andhra Pradesh[3] can be referred to here.


LEGAL REMEDY AVAILABLE:

The punishment for defamation has been prescribed in Section 500 of the IPC. The section clearly states if one person defames another person, he/she shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a fixed time period which might extend to two years, or he/she may be entitled to pay fine, or he could both be imprisoned and be asked to pay fine for the same.

The provisions are given in Section 501, 502 and 504 of the IPC with respect to defamation play a very significant role in understanding its concept as well as in their practical application.

Section 501 talks about ‘Printing or engraving matter known to be defamatory.’ If a person engraves or prints anything which might be perceived as defamatory, and the person doing such an act is known to or believed to have a valid or good reason behind committing such an act, is punished for such an act as per the prescribed punishment for defamation.

Section 502 talks about ‘Sale of printed or engraved substance containing defamatory matter.’ If any person engages in the sale or offers to sell any material or thing which has defamatory content engraved or printed over it, is entitled to be punished as prescribed in the IPC.


Section 504 talks about ‘Intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace.’ When a person intentionally affronts or insults, which causes any kind of provocation to any person, being aware or intending the other person to disrupt or break public peace or him committing any other offence, in such a scenario, the person behind all this is punished as per the prescribed punishment for defamation in the IPC.

In all the above situations, it is very essential to classify previously the nature of the offence of defamation once it has been committed. The offence is of two kinds, criminal and civil defamation. The main difference here lies in the remedy to be given in both situations. Monetary compensation is given in case of civil defamation. A person guilty of criminal defamation can be put behind bars.

In India, there have been multiple cases of defamation over the years. The cases of D.P. Choudhary & Ors. v. Kumari Manjulata[4], Mahender Ram v. Harnandan Prasad[5], Ram Jethmalani v. Subramaniam Swami[6], Arun Jaitley v. Arvind Kejriwal[7], Chintaman Rao v. The State of Madhya Pradesh[8], T.V. Ramasubba Iyer & Anr. v. A.M. Ahamed Mohideen[9] and Shreya Singhal v. Union of India[10] are some of the landmark judgements of this particular field.


CONCLUSION:

Right to freedom of speech and expression does not give us the right to tarnish someone else’s image. Reputation or goodwill are elements that takes lifetime to build and maintain. It takes only a minute to cause a threat to these lifetime assets, which if once stained, are very difficult to obtain back. This distinction is very essential, or else people would have committed slander uncountable times and would have been able to easily get away from the repercussions arising from it.

“Just because something isn't a lie does not mean that it isn't deceptive. A liar knows that he is a liar, but one who speaks mere portions of truth in order to deceive is a craftsman of destruction.” – Criss Jami






[1] Indian Penal Code, 1860. https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1569253/ [2] 2002 (3) ALT 332, available at, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/95513255/?type [3] (1997) 7 Supreme Today 127, available at https://indiankanoon.org/doc/639296/ [4] AIR 1997 Raj 170, available at, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/295448/ [5] AIR 1958 Pat 445, available at, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/899621/ [6] AIR 2006 Delhi 300, available at, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/567707/ [7] CS(OS) 236/2017, available at, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/126490216/ [8] 1951 AIR 118, available at, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1256541/ [9] AIR 1972 Mad 398, available at, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1389851/ [10] Writ Petition (Criminal) No.167 of 2012, available at, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/110813550/

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