It is written in Bhagwad Gita that “For a Man of honour, Defamation is worse than death”.
Defamation implies the act of publishing a statement which tends to lowers the reputation of a person in the eyes of others. This publication of statement may occur in the form of spoken words or gestures then it is termed as slander and when it occurs in the form of written words then it is termed as libel.
In India, Defamation is both a civil wrong and a criminal offence.
In Civil Law, it falls under the Law of Torts i.e. damages by way of monetary compensation can be claimed for defamation by filing a civil lawsuit under Civil Procedure Code. Limitation period for filing a civil suit for compensation for libel is one year from the date of the publication of libel under Article 75 of the Limitation Act.
If you are thinking to file a lawsuit for claiming compensation for defamation then you may file it with the help of lawsuit lawyer and then you need to prove following essentials:
- Communication– Communicaton can be by way of spoken words, written words, pictures or even gestures.
- Publication– Communication must be published i.e. a third party must have seen, heard or read the defamatory statement. If there is no publication then it means there is no injury to reputation and hence, no action will arise.
- Injury– Said communication must have caused an injury to the reputation of a person.
- Falsity– The defamatory statement must be false. If the statement is not false then the said communication will not be considered as defamatory.
Under Criminal Law, Defamation has been defined under section 499 of the Indian Penal Code. The punishment is mentioned under section 500 which can extend upto simple imprisonment for a term of two years, or with fine, or both. It is bailable, non-congnizable and compoundable offence.
Section 499 of Indian Penal Code defines Defamation as: “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.”
For Example: A says—“Z is an honest man; he never stole B’s watch”; intending to cause it to be believed that Z did steal B’s watch OR A is asked who stole B’s watch. A points to Z, intending to cause it to be believed that Z stole B’s watch OR A draws a picture of Z running away with B’s watch, intending it to be believed that Z stole B’s watch. This is defamation.
Defences Under IPC:
Under Indian Criminal law, if with the help of a criminal litigation lawyer a person manages to show that his case falls under any of the following circumstances then he cannot be charged for the offence of defamation during the trial:
- Truth published for public interest.
- Any expression in good faith on the conduct or character of a public servant on a public question.
- Publication of a substantially true report.
- Any opinion in good faith regarding the merits of any case, which has been decided by a Court of Justice, or the conduct of any person as a party, or the witness or the agent, in such case.
- Any opinion in good faith regarding the merits of any performance which an author has submitted to the judgment of the public.
- It is not defamation if a person having any authority over another person, either conferred by law or arising out of a lawful contract, to pass in good faith any censure on the conduct of that other in matters to which such lawful authority relates.
- It is not defamation to make an imputation on the character of another person, provided it is made in good faith by person for protection of his or other’s interests.
Constitutional validity of Section 499 & 500 of Indian Penal Code
In a landmark case of Subramanian Swamy v. Union of India, WRIT PETITION (CRIMINAL) NO. 184 OF 2014, it was held by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India while upholding the constitutional validity of section 499 and 500 of IPC said that right to Life under Article 21 of Indian Constitution includes right to reputation. Freedom of speech and expression is not absolute. The concept of social interest has to be kept in mind when considering reasonableness of a restriction. Right to freedom and speech and expression cannot be allowed so much room that even reputation of an individual which is a constituent of Article 21 would have no entry into that area. Hence, section 499 is not an excessive restriction under Article 19(2) of Indian Constitution.