Every person has the right to his reputation which they consider more valuable than any other property. For any person in the world, reputation matters the most and the man cares for the same. If the reputation of any person is injured the person gets psychologically affected to a greater extent. There are many instances in the world, where people end their life by committing suicide when they are compelled to live their lives in shame and blame though they made no fault on their side. If any person injures the reputation, by making a false statement of him it constitutes defamation.
Defamation in civil and criminal law:
Under civil law and criminal law, defamation is an offence. In civil law offence of defamation is punishable under the law of tort by providing monetary compensation to the complainant. Whereas, in criminal law, the offence of defamation is punishable as a bailable and non-cognizable offence.
Ingredients of defamation:
● The statement made by the person must be defamatory
● The said statement must refer to the plaintiff.
● The statement made, must be false
● The statement must be published. ie., must be known to at least one person other than the complainant
● The statement must cause injury to the complainant.
Categories of defamation:
Libel: Libel is a defamatory statement made in some permanent or visible form.
Example: writing, statute, printing, picture
Slander: Slander is the defamatory statement made by spoken words tending to injure the reputation of the other.
In India, criminal law does not make any distinction between libel and slander. Under section 499 of the Indian Penal Code, both libel and slander are criminal offences that are punishable.
Defamation under criminal law:
According to section 499 of IPC Defamation: 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.
According to section 499 of IPC, Any person by written words or spoken words, signs of physical representation causes or publishes on any person, any imputation to harm the reputation of the person with intention then the person creating such imputation should have known or have a reason, such that imputation will damage the reputation of the person commits the offence of defamation.
Also, there are ten exceptions to section 499[i] and the punishment of defamation is defined in section 500. According to section 500 of IPC if the definition does not fall in any of the ten exceptions, then whoever defames will be punished with simple imprisonment which may extend to two years or fine or both.
Constitutionality of criminal defamation:
Criminal defamation’s constitutional validity was challenged in the Supreme court during the year 2005. The petitioner Subramanya Swamy with the famous politicians Rahul Gandhi, Arvind Kejriwal, Jayalalitha, and others challenge the constitutional validity of criminal defamation(section 499 and section 500 of IPC).
In this case, the Supreme court held that,
● Individuals’ reputation is included in the protection of dignity which is a part of article 21 of the Indian Constitution (Right to life)
● It is right to freedom of speech and expression but they are subjected to certain reasonable restrictions wherein such reasonable restrictions are to serve the public.
● Thus the right to reputation fall under the purview of article 21 of the Indian constitution and the defamation under section 499 of the Indian penal code is not vague and ambiguous.[ii]
Also, the supreme court added that the imputation is defamatory only when it is made with the intention to cause harm and if it lowers the person’s credit or character. It was also well established that the provision of the penal code is proportionate and the supreme court dismissed the petition that challenged the constitutional validity of the criminal defamation and approved the criminal defamation was constitutionally valid.
Article 19 and defamation:
According to article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution,” All citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression”[iii]
Freedom of speech is one of the powerful weapons of the individual and the basic right available for the individuals the first condition of Liberty is the freedom of speech where it is the ability to think and speak and express one’s own opinion.
Indian constitution under Article 19(2), lays down certain restriction which prevents any person from using a statement that leads to defaming the status of another. This defamation is a criminal offence under sections 499 and 500 of the Indian penal code. Article 19 is not an absolute right. Also, wherein reputation falls under the preview of the dignity of the individual and the freedom to hurt others person reputation is not protected under Article 21 of the constitution.
J J State of Maharashtra Vs Anna Hazare[iv]
Anna Hazare social reformer alleged that the complainant, Minister of Maharashtra was involved in bribery. Anna Hazare was lodged by the minister and the munsif magistrate sentenced the accused, the imprisonment for a period of two months.
Anna Hazare is a famous social reformer who was arrested which created a sensation all over the country since then. But finally, he was released in the public interest.
K.Radhanath Rath Vs Birja Prasad Ray [v]
In the respondent newspaper, some defamatory matter about the complainant was published. The respondent published an “apology” for the publication he made, in the next issue and he told that we had published without any acquaintance and he did not possess any ill-will against the plaintiff.
But Radhanath Rath filed suit against the respondent. The Orissa High court held that the respondent is not liable for the defamation because he has expressed his apology in the subsequent issues itself and said that he had published it without any ill-will against Radhanath.[vi]
Repetition is one of the biggest assets of each and every person. When there is any damage to such assent then it can be legally enforced. Thus, defamation laws aim in protecting people from enjoying their reputation.
[i] Diva rai, Defamation: Section 499 to 502 of IPC iPLEADERS (Jan.28,2020), https://blog.ipleaders.in/defamation-section-499-to-502-of-ipc/
[ii] Criminal defamation: A ‘reasonable restriction’ on freedom of speech? OBHAN & ASSOCIATES, https://www.obhanandassociates.com/blog/criminal-defamation-a-reasonable-restriction-on-freedom-of-speech/
[iii] Art.19, Constitution of India, 1950
[iv] J J State of Maharashtra Vs Anna Hazare 1998
[v] K.Radhanath Rath Vs Birja Prasad Ray (1992CrLJ 938)
[vi] Pragati gosh, Essay for law students on ‘defamation’ SHARE YOUR ESSAYS, https://www.shareyouressays.com/essays/essay-for-law-students-on-defamation/115794