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Defamation in the Legal Spotlight: Navigating the Nuances of Tort Law to Protect Reputations

Defamation is a tort that relates to stating untrue things in order to harm someone's reputation. Defamation is defined as the disclosure of information to someone other than the person who has been defamed in order to degrade the plaintiff's standing in the eyes of right-thinking people or to discourage them from associating or interacting with him. Defamation is an act of harming another's reputation by the use of words, whether written or spoken, a sign, or any other visible representation.

As far as Defamation under tort law is concerned, as a general rule, the focus is on libel (i.e., written Defamation) and not on slander (i.e., spoken Defamation). in order to establish that a statement is libellous, it must be proved that it is
  • false;
  • written;
  • defamatory, and
  • published.
Defamation is a tort that occurs when someone's reputation is harmed. it is the act of causing harm to another's reputation by making a false statement to a third party. Defamation is an infringement of the right to one's reputation. the purpose of Defamation legislation is to safeguard people's reputations from unjust assault. in reality, it has the primary consequence of stifling free expression and shielding powerful individuals from criticism. people can sue individuals who utter or publish false and harmful statements under Defamation law.

My main motivation behind this paper is making a detailed analysis about the civil com criminal wrong Defamation and what are some landmark cases which changed the view of this tort in the society.

A man is respected in society by his reputation. the purpose of Defamation law is to protect one's good name, honor, integrity, character, and dignity in society. an injured person can bring criminal action as well as a civil suit for damages for Defamation.

Defamation is an intentional false communication, the act of publishing defamatory content, written or oral, that damages someone's reputation, or gives rise to disparaging, hostile, or objectionable opinions or feelings you have for others that hurt them in a way you defame them in person.

The right to take legal action for Defamation is limited to a period of one year

Defamation Statements Can Be Made As Defamation Or Slander:
  • Defamation: publishing false statements and Defamation to defame another person without legal reasons or allow. declarations must be in printed form, e.g. writing, printing, drawing, sculpture, etc.
  • Slander: false statements and Defamation through speech and/or gestures that tend to damage the reputation of others.

Historical Background Of Defamation
Dating from the early 1300s, proceedings pertaining to the forerunner of libel were murky and limited to religious tribunals, and it was not until well into afterwards that the prince's courts accepted trials for defamatory remarks. the practical character of common law does not lend itself to the creation of an offense based solely on words. it's mostly about particular actions and repercussions, such as bodily injury, thievery, and murders.

A common law slander case did not emerge until the 16th century. Defamation was treated as a purely spiritual concern before to 1500, and was dealt with by ecclesiastical courts. the ecclesiastical courts ruled that slander was a crime and that the perpetrator could only be sentenced to penance, which was a relatively minor sentence.

Before that time, however, there were occasional actions involving Defamation and degradation of character. in the fourteenth century, for example, there were lawsuits from nobles who had been slandered in the king's public courts. "in 1358, a judge received a substantial sum of money for being called a traitor in court. in addition, there have been some false testimony lawsuits about men in second marriage, a very damaging charge that could ruin your reputation."[2]

Around the same time, the "Scandalum Magnatum"[3] statute allowed top judges and church officials to take legal action if they had been insulted or defamed. the first recorded common law Defamation case was filed in 1507 when the royal court changed its mind over mere words, ruling that they could affect a man's honor as much, or even more, than physical assault. there were three categories of slander at that time:
  1. words that accused someone of a crime;
  2. words accusing someone of being incompetent at his job and
  3. words accusing someone of suffering from a certain disease (for example, french smallpox).[4]

Human nature, driven into a deluge of actions and various forms of Defamation, became the daily bread of the royal court, which until the middle of the sixteenth century became mainly action. in cases 1557 and 1565, several judges attempted to limit the number of complaints by:
  1. Insisting that the plaintiff demonstrate real and particular damage to reputation;
  2. Words labeled as joking or angry were impractical and
  3. Interpreting ambiguous words as less defamatory than they might be. while this was done to reduce stocks a bit, they were still very common.[5]
Some specific rules were also created, such as that a man can sue even if he already has a bad reputation.

Until 1660, common law did not make a clear distinction between written and spoken Defamation. however, defamatory words in scripture were often punishable by harsher penalties. currently, a distinction is made between ephemeral statements, often spoken (Defamation) and permanent statements, often written (Defamation).

Object Of The Study:
To comprehensively understand the definition, background, and the current scenario of the Defamation .the paper also explains about various aspects of Defamation, case laws that involved Defamation. it explains the benefits and limitations of Defamation.

Significance Of The Study:
This study shall help us to understand the past, present of Defamation. it will also highlight the social impact of the Defamation on the people in the society.

Literature Review:
The researcher used a number of web resources, such Manupatra, a widely accessible database for cases, statutes, treaties, and legislation, as well as a large database. in order to gather relevant information and data for this paper, various research papers and journal articles were also reviewed and read. the paper also made use of the India contract law of 1872. black law's dictionary, the most reliable legal dictionary, accredited by the supreme court of India was also used by the researcher.

Research Methodology:
To find answers to the research questions, the researcher used the doctrinal method of study. to substantiate and justify the answers, it has been expanded with an explanatory method.

  1. Definition:
    Defamation refers to the act of making false statements, either in spoken or written form, that harm the reputation of an individual, business, or other entity. these false statements, often referred to as "defamatory statements," can be either spoken (slander) or written (libel).[6]
  2. Elements:
    To Prove Prima Facie Defamation, A Plaintiff Must Show Four Things:
    1. A false statement purporting to be fact;
    2. Publication or communication of that statement to a third person;
    3. Fault amounting to at least negligence;
    4. Damages, or some harm caused to that person or entity who is the subject of the statement.[7]

Explanation Of The Four Elements:
  1. A False Statement Purporting To Be Fact:
    A defamatory statement should be false, because the truth is a defence to Defamation. if the statement is genuine, there is no Defamation because the statement's untruth is a necessary component of Defamation. the law does not punish someone for telling the truth, no matter how unpleasant it is.
  2. Publication Or Communication Of That Statement To A Third Person:
    The comment must be made public in order for Defamation to occur. a third party should be informed of the statement. any statement made in a personal diary or sent as a personal communication is not defamatory; nevertheless, if the sender knows that a third person is likely to see it, it is defamatory.

    Case Law: Mahender Ram Vs Harnandan Prasad On 28 February, 1958 [8]
  3. Fault Amounting To At Least Negligence
    The statement made should in some way harm or injure the plaintiff. for example, the plaintiff's job was lost as a result of the statement made.
  4. Damages Caused To That Person Who Is The Subject Of The Statement
    The defamatory statement must be directed at a person, a group of people, or the firm's trustees. the reference can be explicit or oblique. if the claimant can still be recognised, it is not necessary to mention him by name. the person named in the defamatory statement can be dead or alive; however, a Defamation suit on behalf of a deceased man could only be filed if the plaintiff has an interest in the case.

Defamation in India:
citizens have such a set of freedoms in article 19 of the constitution. article 19(2), is from the other hand, has imposed a legitimate exemption to the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by article 19(1). (a). exceptions includes contempt of court, slander, and incitement to offence committed.

both civil and criminal law regard Defamation being a crime. "Defamation is punishable in civil law under the torts law, which prescribes a punishment in the form of damages to be granted to the claimant. Defamation is a bailable, non-cognizable, and compoundable offence under criminal law." as a result, a policeman can only make arrests if a judge issues an arrest warrant. the offence is punishable by a simple imprisonment of up to two years, a fine, or both under the Indian penal code.
  1. Civil Defamation:
    "The statements made must be false, and they should be made without the alleged defamed person's consent." for defamatory, the defendant can be sued for financial damages. a successful Defamation claim requires meet certain criteria. they are as follows:

    there must have been an offensive statement expressed. defamatory content is intended to harm a person's or a group's reputation by exposing them to hatred, contempt, or ridicule. the to see if it harms one's reputation must be calculated through the eyes of a common man and his understanding of the situation second, the statements must refer to a particular person or group of people. blanket statements such as "all politicians are corrupt" are too broad, and no single politician can be compensated for it.

    Defamation requires the false statement to be communicated to a third party, either through spoken or written means. if a letter containing defamatory content is sent in a language the recipient doesn't understand, and they rely on a third party to read it to them, it still qualifies as Defamation. this is because the involvement of a third party is necessary for the message to reach the recipient, making it a public communication, even if the letter was originally intended to be private.
  2. Criminal Defamation:
    This constitutes Defamation, which could result in a potential prison sentence. to pursue a criminal case, there must be a deliberate intent to harm someone's reputation through false accusations. it needs to be established beyond a reasonable doubt that the action was taken with the purpose of tarnishing another person's character, or at the very least, with the awareness that it would lead to Defamation.

    Defamation and its exemptions are outlined in section 499 of the Indian penal code, 1860. it pertains to words or gestures that are either expressed with the intention to cause harm or with the knowledge that such expression will cause harm. if statements are made about a deceased individual that could negatively impact their reputation, it may still be categorized as Defamation.
  3. Constitutionality Of Defamatory Laws
    "Defamation laws have triggered a debate about whether they violate the basic right granted by article 19 of the constitution. the supreme court has declared that Defamation laws are constitutionally valid and therefore do not conflict with the right to free speech. the court also recognized the right to free speech and expression is "absolutely fundamental" but not absolute." article 21 stipulates that a person's right to life includes his or her right to.
  4. Right To Speech Vs Right To Reputation:
    due to their overlap nature, the right to free speech and the right to reputation are two fundamental human rights that often conflict with one another. each of these rights have been regarded as crucial not only by the Indian constitution, but also by many international accords. people have the right to live a decent life while also having the freedom to freely express their beliefs and opinions. as previously stated, the court has often underlined the importance of balancing these rights. parliamentarians, on either hand, have unlimited right to free expression within the four walls of the parliament where the right to free speech has been fairly limited for the protection of the right to reputation.

    during the course of parliamentary business, they have the absolute right to make statements, no matter how defamatory they are. while the committee on privileges has stressed the importance of exercising caution while making statements during the course of parliamentary business, the lack of formal proceedings has left it open to abuse by members. the question that remains unanswered is whether unlimited freedom of speech is truly necessary for members of parliament to function effectively. and how does making disparaging remarks against a member of parliament constitute efficient work?

    while these questions have yet to be answered, the committee on privileges should assess the members' free speech privileges in order to guarantee that a balance is maintained between the right to free speech and the right to reputation.
  5. Remedies Available Under Indian Law:
    India provides a civil law remedy for damages as well as a criminal law remedy for punishment to those who have been defamed.. "Defamation is covered by the law of torts in civil law, which imposes punishment in the form of damages granted to the claimant (person filing the claim). Defamation is a bailable, non-cognizable, and compoundable offence under criminal law."[13] The time limit for filing a criminal Defamation complaint is three years from the date of knowledge of the offence. the civil remedy is to bring a lawsuit for damages, and criminal Defamation is dealt with under sections 499 and 500 of the Indian penal code (IPC).

    A private complaint is made before the judicial magistrate in the context of criminal Defamation.

    A person who has been defamed can file a civil Defamation action with a competent court with pecuniary jurisdiction and seek damages in the form of monetary compensation. a civil complaint can be initiated where the defendant lives or where the defamatory remark was made/published, according to section 19 of the civil procedure code (cpc).

    Court fees for a civil Defamation case are calculated based on the amount of monetary compensation sought. the cost of going to court varies from state to state.
  6. Defences Available Under Indian Law:
    Defamation is a civil as well as a criminal offence. as a result, a person who has been wronged by Defamation can either submit a civil case or a criminal complaint under the ipc. Defamation of a person is punishable by two years in jail and a fine under section 500 of the ipc. the amount of the penalties or damages, on the other hand, varies from case to case.
Defamation Under Sec. 499 IPC Is Subject To The Following Exceptions:
  • The public interest necessitates the making or publication of imputations of truth.
  • A public servant's public conduct.
  • Any person's conduct when it comes to a public issue.
  • Reports of court proceedings are made public.
  • The merits of the case, as determined in court, or the conduct of witnesses and those involved.
  • The benefits of performing in public.
  • Censure imposed in good faith by someone with legal authority over someone else.
  • Authorized person is preferred over accusation made in good faith.
  • Imputation made in good faith to promote the welfare of oneself or others.

Important Landmark Judgements
A wide range of Defamation lawsuits have been heard in India's courts. the following are a few notable instances with noteworthy facts or a significant court decision.

D.P. Chaudhary Vs. Manjulatha:
As reported by the local newspaper Dainik Navjyothi, a 17-year-old college student, the plaintiff, eloped with a boy after falsely stating that she was attending classes. this false news article had a detrimental effect on her reputation and adversely affected her prospects for marriage. the misinformation in the article was legally actionable, leading to an award of rs. 10,000 as general damages in her favor.

Mahendra Ram Vs. Harnandan Prasad:
the plaintiff is a well-respected individual with considerable wealth who has a high level of public favour. the plaintiff's son had purchased and was constructing a house adjacent to the defendant's house to the south. the defendant sent a registered notice in urdu to the plaintiff in Siwan from Sultanpur. because the plaintiff was unfamiliar with urdu script, he had Kurban Ali read the notification in front of a group of people.

Issues of the case: it was a defamatory notice and contained false allegations against him and he was very much surprised and pained by them. the defamatory statement lowered the plaintiff in the estimation of the public and harmed his reputation. he suffered both mental and physical injuries.

Subramanian Swamy Vs. Ram Jethmalani:
"The court found Dr.Swamy guilty of defaming Ram Jethmalani by alleging that he accepted money from a prohibited organisation in order to defend the then-chief minister of Tamil Nadu from the case of Rajiv Gandhi's killing."

Subramaniam Swamy's remarks were found to be defamatory since the claims he made against Ram Jethmalani that llte monies were put in Ram Jethmalani's son a/c were proven to be incorrect. furthermore, the remarks made against Ram Jethmalani were aphoristic. third, the statements were identified as having been issued because Subramaniam Swamy read the defamatory remarks in the proceedings even after they had been annulled by the jain commission of inquiry's authorities.

The state of Madhya Pradesh Vs. Chintaman Rao:
The supreme court clarified the scope of article 19's "reasonable limits" (2). it suggests thoughtful consideration and deliberation, which is essential in the public interest.

The Facts Of This Case Are As Follows:
The petitioners were biris manufacturers and labourers in Madhya Pradesh's saugar district, who were involved in the production of biris. on 16.10.1948, the Madhya Pradesh government passed the central province of berar regulation of manufacture of biris (agricultural purpose) act, which was in effect in m. p. at the time the Indian constitution was made applicable there. On June 13, 1950, the deputy commissioner of district saugar issued an order prohibiting the manufacture of biris in several areas, including the petitioner's hamlet.

The supreme court ruled that the terms "proper ban" in article 19(7) of the Indian constitution mean that the prohibition should not be imposed arbitrarily or unjustly to any person's rights, but rather in the public good.

An act that unjustly oppresses rights is not said to be proper until it strikes a balance between the rights bestowed under article 19(1) (g) and the social contract established under article 19(1) (a) (6).

It was also decided that while the proportion of property held by the legislature is not definitive, the supreme court's oversight is critical. the supreme court has the power to overturn any law passed by the legislature that violates the rights of citizens.

A.M.A.Mohideen Vs. T.V.Ramasubha Iyer:
Defendants published a statement with no aim of defaming the defendants. it was in relation to a specific person who was suspected of smuggling agarbathis to ceylon. the plaintiff was also in the same line of business, and the court granted him damages since his reputation had been harmed.

Every individual's reputation is a valuable asset. any harm to such a valuable asset can be dealt with legally. Defamation laws were designed to prevent people from utilizing their right to freedom of speech and expression for malevolent purposes. libel and slander are not differentiated in Indian law, which is correct. otherwise, there could have been opportunities for slander and evasion of the laws prohibiting the release of information in writing.

Intentional Defamation is also punishable by imprisonment, and it is illegal to defame someone with malice in mind. the laws against Defamation are legal and reasonable. it is not Defamation, however, if the conduct is within the restrictions listed. there have been countless cases of Defamation over the past seventy-one years of independence, and the courts have analyzed each case with great care, and they serve as precedents.

  1. law of torts by rantanlal and dhirajlal
  1. Ratanlal and Dhirajlal, The Law of Torts 279 (LexisNexis, New Delhi, 26th edn., 2013)
  2. History of Defamation' (English Legal History, 2021) (accessed 16 October 2023)
  3. A defamatory speech or writing published to the injury of a peer, judge, or other great officer of England.
  4. History of Defamation' (English Legal History, 2021) (accessed 16 October 2023)
  5. History of Defamation' (English Legal History, 2021) (accessed 16 October 2023)
  6. Defamation law made simple (, 2023) (accessed 16 October 2023)
  7. LII/Legal Information Institute, 2021, Defamation. [online] available at: (accessed 16 October 2023)

Written By: Siripurapu Madan Kumar, BA LLB (Hons.), Damodaram Sanjivayya National Law University, Visakhapatnam.

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