The essential concept of defamation law is that a person’s reputation, the respect in which he is regarded by society, the credibility and confidence it places in his knowledge, dignity, and ethics, all of these are important assets for him, and they ought to be protected by the law. The pursuit of reputation is the driving force behind human behaviour, and as such, it must be safeguarded and promoted for the sake of society’s advancement.
In so far as protection of public image is indispensably crucial to the satisfaction of every right and entitlement incident to such a country, the freedom of every individual to the credibility that his behaviour receives is on par with the entitled to pursue his life, individual rights, wellbeing, assets, and all the conveniences and benefits that apply to a nation of civilized society.
Defamation is a civil as well as a criminal offence. Civil defamation is based on harm to a private entity, but criminal defamation is based on harm to community. The criminal law of defamation is codified, but the civil law of defamation is not.
According to Section 500 of the IPC, defamation is punishable by up to two years in imprisonment or a fine. Defamation cases have been on the rise in India during the last few years. On spurious grounds, politicians bring defamation lawsuits against each other, followed by cross-defamation lawsuits.
A number of lawsuits have been brought against politicians like as Arvind Kejriwal, Rahul Gandhi, and Smriti Irani. This has sparked debate in the media, highlighting the need to revisit India’s defamation laws. Many purposeful false statements, either published or spoken, that jeopardise a person’s status; diminishes an individual’s esteem, trust, or faith. It arouses unfavourable, antagonistic, or unpleasant sentiments or views about someone.
Defamation is made up of the following key ingredients:
- creating or publishing in public any allegation about another individual;
- The allegation must have been created with the aim to hurt and with awareness or cause to anticipate that it will impair the person’s reputation.
In the case of South Indian Railway co. v. Ramakrishan , it was held that “word spoken is bonafide way & under circumstances of case, there is no defamation & no one is liable for the same.”
B. DEFAMATION UNDER IPC
The IPC safeguards a person’s reputation under Chapter XXI sections 499-502. Section 124A of the Code prohibits defamation of the state, and Section 153 of the Code prohibits defamation of a class, such as a community, and Section 295A prohibits hate speech that offends religious sentiments.
Section 499 reads as follows-
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 excepted, to defame that person-
• Explanation l:
In the event that an individual defames a deceased person, whether by writing, speech, gestures, or photographs. The conduct would have affected the individual’s life if he were still living, or the image of the family of the deceased or close ties, in which instance it would be considered defamation.
• Explanation 2:
Defamation occurs when an act is meant to bring damage to a corporation, organisation, or group of individuals. This implies that under it, businesses or institutions can file a defamation lawsuit against a person.
• Explanation 3:
Defamation can occur when an accusation is made in the guise of an innuendo or sarcastically phrased.
• Explanation 4:
When an act damages an individual’s intellectual and moral integrity or decreases his credibility, his image is hurt. It also tarnishes a man’s career if the incident devalues his or her dignity in the eyes of his or her community or profession.
The Exceptions given under Section 499 are-
• First Exception:
This exception states that any knowledge that is accurate and beneficial to the wider populace is not included by the act of defamation. The information must be accurate and must be of such a nature that it is useful to the general audience. It is also necessary to disclose such information.
• Second Exception:
This exemption states that if the public servant is criticised for performing any of his official responsibilities, or if his behaviour and conduct are condemned when they seem to be incorrect and not otherwise. Then the action will not be considered defamation. Any such remark or expression of opinion should be made in good faith. That is, it will be regarded a defamatory conduct if it is committed with intent of malice or in bad faith. Any criticism of a public servant’s conduct, character, or performance of any role must be truthful and equitable. Or else, it will be deemed a defamation offence.
• Third Exception:
If an individual communicates his or her thoughts and opinions about the conduct of another person performing public functions, he or she will not be held responsible for defamation. The only requirement is that such views and suggestions be expressed in good faith and with sincerity. If it is made in any other way, the conduct will be considered defamation.
• Fourth Exception:
It will not be considered defamation if any court proceedings or the outcome of any case delivered by the court is publicised. Publishing must be accurate and appropriate.
• Fifth Exception:
It will not be considered defamation if someone discloses information about the case’s merits or the actions of a witness. It’s worth noting that the condition of good faith is required in this.
• Sixth Exception:
It is not defamation if an individual shares his or her view in good faith about the author’s work or personality, which the author has exposed to the judgement of the public or spectators. The author must have directly or implicitly exposed her/his work to the general public’s assessment. If this isn’t the case, the action will be considered defamatory.
• Seventh Exception:
If someone criticises someone else’s behaviour, it isn’t considered defamation as long as the one doing the criticising has legitimate power, or authority deriving from a valid contract, over the individual whose conduct is being criticised.
• Eight Exception:
It will not be considered defamation if someone with legal power over the other individual charges him.
• Ninth Exception:
It is not defamation if assertions or statements are made against another individual in order to preserve one’s own rights.
• Tenth Exception:
If a warning is issued for the benefit of that individual or the society, it will not be considered defamation.
If an offence was committed of defamation under section 499 of the IPC, the penalty is specified in section 500, which includes simple imprisonment for up to two years or a fine, or both. The offence is non cognizable and bailable, according to the Criminal Procedure Code, which lays forth the procedural components of the law. Those suspected of the offence would usually not be brought into custody without a warrant, thus an offended party would not be able to simply submit a police complaint, but would instead have to lodge a complaint with a magistrate in most circumstances.
Only truth (provided it is proven accurate) is a defence against defamation as a crime under criminal law in a select number of instances. This can render people especially vulnerable to being charged with defamation under the IPC, even though the statements they expressed were true.
In the case of Purushottam Lal Sayal v. Prem Shankar , the court held that-
“The Court has therefore to apply the rules of equity, justice and good conscience. The person defame can file a suit for damages. The publication of defamatory statement may be restrained by injunction either under section 38 or 39 of the Specific Relief Act, 1963. The plaintiff in a defamation suit must quote the precise words uttered by the defamer to enable the Court to decide whether they are capable of a defamatory meaning.”
In the case of Maulik Kotak vs. State of Maharashtra , it was held that “complaint for defamation is to be lodged by person aggrieved and the person defamed and not by any other person, by substituting the aggrieved person, who was not defamed.”
C. DEFAMATION UNDER CPC AND TORT LAW
Defamation in Common law is divided into two parts: a) libel and b) slander. Libel is an offence in English law, whereas slander is not, but is classified as an offence in the case of proof of damages. However, in India, both libel and slander are considered offences (without proof of damages). In the civil law of defamation, the term innuendo is vitally valuable.
Sometimes a remark is prima facie defamatory when it’s obvious and apparent in meaning appears to be defamatory, but in certain circumstances it is prima facie harmless since additional interpretation leads to defamation, and if the offended party wishes to pursue legal action, he must show pejorative connotation. When innuendo is proven, statements that are not defamatory become defamatory immediately. A hurried remark made in rage, or vulgar insult to which no one would ascribe any set of intentions to a distinct character will not be actionable.
There are several factors that must be proven by the plaintiff or the injured party in order for the tort of defamation to be established:
- the published words must be defamatory;
- the claimed defamatory words must pertain to the plaintiff;
- the words must have been published with malicious intent.
It is not necessary for defamation to be disclosed in such a way that the majority of people recognize who is being referenced. What matters is that a large number of people comprehend who the writing is about.
In the case of Manmohan Kalia vs. Yash and Ors. , it was held that “Evidence of two types of conclusions cannot be used to establish innuendo. Additional facts must be able to demonstrate that the words were only applicable to plaintiff and plaintiff alone.”
In another case, Bonnard v. Perryman , it was said that-
“The Court has jurisdiction to restrain by injunction, and even by an interlocutory injunction, the publication of a libel. But the exercise of the jurisdiction is discretionary, and an interlocutory injunction ought not to be granted except in the clearest cases—in cases in which, if a jury did not find the matter complained of to be libellous, the Court would set aside the verdict as unreasonable. An interlocutory injunction ought not to be granted when the Defendant swears that he will be able to justify the libel, and the Court is not satisfied that he may not be able to do so.”
In the case of R. Rajagopal V State of Tamil Nadu
“This case pertains to constitutionality of civil defamation. In this case, Supreme Court of India mentioned about one of the landmark judgment of the US Supreme Court in New York Times v. Sullivan stated that government official who is on his duty can recover damages only when the truth claim is false and reckless regard for truth. Through this case, the judges examined the relationship between free speech and civil defamation. The court held that common law defamation stood unreasonably restricted under Article 19(1) (a) because it thrust undue advantage of no fault liability. The primary assault against Section 499 was that by criminalizing what is basically a private wrong. The Section added up to limitation upon free discourse.”
D. TYPES OF DEFAMATION RECOURSE
There are two ways in which a plaintiff can seek recourse if an offence of defamation has been committed on his reputation. They are-
1) By filing a Criminal Complaint to the Magistrate
2) By filing a Civil Suit in the appropriate Court
D1. PROCEDURE UNDER CRIMINAL LAW:
Section 500 of the Indian Penal Code states that a sentence of two years in prison, a fine, or both is non-cognizable, bailable, and triable by a court of session. There is also a penalty provision for printing or engraving anything that is known to be defamatory, as well as the sale of that content.
- When a police officer receives information on a non-cognizable offense, the officer in charge of the police station where the crime was committed must write the details of the information in a book authorized by the State Government and send the complainant to the Magistrate.
It is important to remember that without the permission of the appropriate Magistrate, police personnel have no power to investigate or take measures in connection to a non-cognizable offence. The officer shall have the same investigative powers as he does in the event of a cognizable offence under the order of the Magistrate ordering inquiry.
- The Complainant may write follow-up correspondence to the police station where the report was provided if the officers do not file the aforementioned information of non- cognizable offence with the Magistrate requesting his authorization or direction to investigate. In addition, the Complainant has the option of filing a private complaint with the Magistrate in question. The application fee for filing such a case is 10 rupees as per The Telangana Court-Fees And Suits Valuation Act, 1956.
A Complainant may also go before the relevant Magistrate who has jurisdiction over the offence immediately. The Complainant, as well as any witnesses present, will be questioned under oath by the Magistrate. The Complainant’s and witnesses’ remarks are put to writing, and their signatures are obtained on the document.
- If the Magistrate believes an offence has been established, he may issue a procedure against the accused (“Accused”). This is a notice ordering the Accused to appear before the Magistrate. In rare situations, the Magistrate may order more investigation before issuing the proceedings against the Accused.
A victim of a crime or someone with knowledge of the act can make a complaint. The complainant and any witnesses, if any, are examined under oath by the Magistrate who takes cognizance of a crime based on a complaint. After then, the complaint is converted to writing and signed by the complainant, witnesses, and the Magistrate.
In the following circumstances, the Magistrate does not need to interrogate the complainant or the witness if the complaint is made in writing:
a) If the complaint is a public servant performing his or her official responsibilities
b) if the Magistrate refers the case to another Magistrate for an investigation or trial
- If the learned Magistrate is unsure whether there are adequate reasons for proceeding, he or she may enquire personally or order a police or other person to conduct an inquiry. The objective of the inquiry or investigation is to determine whether there are adequate reasons to proceed.
- If the magistrate believes there is enough reason to continue, whether or not the investigation is completed, the magistrate will issue summonses to the accused and continue with the trial process. If the magistrate declines to issue a process and rejects the complaint, the person who has been wronged can file a revision petition with the Sessions Court.
- The evidence is divided into three sections once the FIR has been lodged by the police authorities:
• recording of statements
• gathering of evidence in the form of documents and other items
• Confessions or declarations recorded before the Magistrate
- After all the three stages of evidence have been completed, the Police must file their Final Report with the Magistrate , which is the end of the investigation and the evidence gathered by the Investigation Authority.
- If the Police Authorities determine that there is insufficient evidence against the accused after an inquiry, they may make a report and discharge the accused on a bond and commitment to appear before the Magistrate competent to take cognizance as and when needed.
There will be two types of final reports:
• Closer Report
• Charge sheet
- Closer Report-
It merely suggests that there is no evidence to support the allegation that the claimed offense was committed by the accused. When the Police file a closer report, the Magistrate has two options:
a. Admit the report and conclude the case;
b. Instruct the investigative agency to look into the subject further if there are any gaps in the inquiry.
c. According to the instructions provided by the Supreme Court in the matter of Bhagwan Singh vs. Commissioner of Police , serve a notice to the First Informant, as he is the only one who may question the closer report.
d. In some circumstances, the Magistrate may dismiss the closer report outright and take cognizance of the matter , issue summons to the accused , and order his attendance.
- Charge Sheet-
It comprises the components of the crime in a specified format, as well as the results of the police investigation and the accusations levied against the accused. It contains a summary of the facts, a copy of the FIR, all statements logged under Sections 161 and 164 of the Panchnamas, a list of witnesses, a list of seizures, and other documentary evidence gathered by the investigative agency throughout the inquiry.
The magistrate may issue summons/warrants to the Accused mentioned in the charge sheet and instruct him to attend before him on the date he specifies after the charge sheet is filed. The investigating agency must file the final report under Section 173 of the Criminal Procedure Code within 60 days if the offence is punished by less than ten years of imprisonment.
In situations where the alleged crime is punished by more than ten years in jail, life imprisonment, or the death sentence, the investigating agency is required to provide a report within 90 days of the FIR being filed. The course of investigation comes to a conclusion here, and the section of the trial begins. If a prosecutor/special prosecutor has been appointed, the police authorities must hand over the case to him and follow his orders throughout the trial.
- Commitment of the Case under Section 209 of the Criminal Procedure Code – Once the investigation agency files the Charge Sheet with the Magistrate, the Magistrate will take cognizance of the case under Section 190 (1)(b) and issue a warrant under Section 204 to the accused to secure his presence before him, and then further can instruct the investigation agency to hand over the charge sheet to the accused.
If the offences are subject to a session trial, the Magistrate will commit the case and transmit all of the case’s paperwork and procedures to the District and Session court, where the trial will commence.
- The method of Sessions Trial is discussed in Chapter XVII. Sections 225 to 233 of the Criminal Procedure Code cover the specifics of how the Public Prosecutor must handle the trial. The chosen prosecutor will have to begin the case by informing the Court of the allegations levied against the accused in the Charge Sheet.
- Discharge under section 227 of the Criminal Procedure Code and charge framing under section 228 of the Criminal Procedure Code -The accused can submit an application under Section 227 of the Criminal Procedure Code for discharge from the allegations made against him in the charge sheet at any time before the charges are filed against him. The accused must demonstrate to the court that all of the accusations brought against him are untrue and insufficient to proceed against him in court.
If the Court rejects the aforementioned application under Section 227, the court may proceed to establish charges against the accused under Section 228. At this point, the Hon’ble Court can add or remove any charge if the evidence on record does not support the charge. The accused will be read the accusations by the Hon’ble Court, who will then be asked if he agrees with them and pleads guilty to the allegations.
- If the accused pleads guilty to the offence and agrees to the charges specified at this stage of the trial, he may be directly convicted for those counts under section 229 of the Criminal Code. If the accused pleads not guilty, the judge will order the trial to begin, and the accused will have to appear in court.
- Examining witnesses on both sides, including Chief Examination, Cross Examination, and Re-Examination, is part of the evidence stage. The Examination of Witnesses is addressed under Chapter X of the Indian Evidence Act.
- If the Prosecution’s evidence is finished, the Judge will order the accused to stand in the witness box and record his statement under Section 313 of the Criminal Code. This is the first time the court examines the accused and presents all of the testimony of the witnesses who have testified against him in question and answer format.
During the recording of the statement, no oath is given, and nothing recorded against the accused can be used against him afterwards.
- Following the recording of the Statement under Section 313 of the Criminal Code, the Judge may enable the accused, through his attorney, to present any Defense Witnesses in order to have them cross-examined.
- After a thorough examination of the Statements and Evidence, as well as the evidence of the witnesses, both parties present their cases to the Court through arguments. The Court will decide whether the accused is Convicted or Acquitted of the accusations levelled against him based on the above arguments and the substantial evidence on file.
If the Judge convicts the accused, he will have to hear the accused on the quantum of judgement under Section 360, which will determine how long he will serve his sentence for the crime he committed, and after hearing the accused, the Judge will pass a detailed judgement, recording all of the reasons why the accused, in his opinion, should be punished for the crime.
D2. PROCEDURE UNDER CIVIL LAW
There is a thorough process for filing a civil lawsuit or civil law action, and if the process is not followed, the registrar has the authority to dismiss the case. The steps are as follows:
- A plaint is a written complaint or allegation filed in court. It includes the name of the court, the nature of the complaint, the names and addresses of the persons who will be sued, and a statement from the plaintiff declaring that the contents of the plaint are accurate and correct.
- Filing a plaint with the Chief Ministerial Officer [Sherestedar]–paying the necessary court charge- Rs.10/- and procedure fees- Rs.25/- , which vary depending on the kind of document.
- Hearing – On the first day of hearing, if the court believes the matter has substance, it will send notice to the opposing party, instructing them to present their reasons and setting a date for the hearing. When the opposite party receives the notification, the plaintiff must do the following:
• Submit the required process – fee to the court.
• Submit two copies of the plaint to the court for each defendant.
• One copy for each defendant should be provided by Register/post/courier, and the other by ordinary mail;
• This filing must be completed within 7 days of the date of the order/notice.
- Written Statement – When the respondent receives the notice, he must appear on the date specified in the notice. Prior to that date, the respondent must record his written statement, i.e. his defence to the claim raised by the offended party, within 30 days of the date of administration of the notice, or within the time allowed by the court. The written statement should expressly refute the charges, which the defendant believes are untrue. Any accusation that isn’t expressly refuted is assumed to be true. The written statement should include Defendant verification, indicating that the contents of the written statement are accurate and correct. The deadline for filing a Written Statement is 30 days, although it can be extended to 90 days with the court’s approval.
- Plaintiff’s Replication – A plaintiff’s replication is a response to the Defendant’s “written statement,” and it should expressly reject the charges stated by the Defendant in the written statement. Anything that isn’t refuted is assumed to be true. Pleadings are said to be complete after Replication is filed.
- Filing of Other Documents – After the pleadings have been filed, both parties are given the option to produce and file documents that they rely on in order to prove their claims. Document filing should be acknowledged and recorded. In a nutshell, the method is-
• If documents are denied by the opposing party, they can be admitted by the witness presented by the party whose documents are denied.
• Once the document has been admitted, it becomes part of the court’s record, and all the details of the suit, such as the names of the parties, the title of the suit, and so on, are inscribed on the document.
• Documents that are rejected, i.e. not accepted, are returned to the appropriate parties;
• Documents must be filed in “original,” with a backup copy supplied to the opposing party.
- Issues are framed by the Court, and arguments and witness examinations are conducted on the basis of the “Issues.” The following are the main points:
• Issues are formed in light of the suit’s conflicts, and the parties are not permitted to go beyond the scope of “Issues.”
• At the time of the final order, the court will deal with each matter separately and give judgments on each subject.
• Both parties to the suit must file a list of witnesses within 15 days after the day on which the issues were framed, or within such other term as the court may designate.
• The parties have the option of calling the witness personally or requesting that the court send summons to them.
• If a court issues a summons to a witness, the party who requested the witness must deposit money with the court for their costs, which is known as “Diet Money.” Any witness who fails to come before the court when ordered to do so by the court may be fined.
• Finally, on the scheduled date, both sides will question the witness.
• After the witness examination and cross-examination, as well as the admission and rejection of documents, the court will set a date for the final hearing.
- Final Hearing –
• The arguments will take place on the final hearing day.
• Arguments should be limited to the topics that have been posed.
• Parties can modify their pleadings with the Court’s consent before the final Arguments.
• The court has the authority to refuse to hear anything that is not included in the pleadings.
• Finally, the court will issue a “final Order,” either on the day of the hearing or on a later date set by the court.
- A certified copy of an order is a copy of the court’s final order that bears the seal and stamp of the court. It is useful in the event of an appeal or the implementation of an order.
- When an order is entered against a party to a lawsuit, it does not mean that the party has no further options. By way of example, such a party can start the process by:
• Appeal ,
• Reference , or
- Any decree issued by the court can be appealed. There are various technical differences and distinctions between them, as follows:
• An appeal can be brought solely on an issue of law if the suit’s value does not exceed Rs. 10,000.
• No appeal is available when a decree is entered against the Defendant “Ex-Parte”
• If an appeal is heard by two or more judges, the majority judgement will be upheld; if there is no majority, the lower court’s decision will be upheld; and if there is no majority, the lower court’s decision will be upheld.
• If the number of judges in the court where the appeal is lodged exceeds the number of judges hearing the appeal, any disagreement on a point of law might be referred to one or more judges.
The procedure for appealing original decrees is as follows:
• The appeal must be submitted in the specified form, signed by the appellant, and accompanied by a true certified copy of the order.
• The reasons of objection should be listed under separate headings and numbered sequentially in the appeal.
• If the petitioner is appealing a money judgement, the court may order him to deposit the disputed amount or provide additional security.
• Without the authorization of the court, a basis or objection not listed in the appeal cannot be brought up for debate.
• Likewise, any point of law that the Appellant did not raise in the lower court cannot be raised in the appeal. The appeal is limited to those issues that the court has resolved correctly or incorrectly.
CHALLENGES IN DEFAMATION SUITS
Defamation is a criminal offence under the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which is punished by fines, imprisonment, or both. This is dangerous for a range of factors. Being arrested and suspected of a crime causes a lot of problems. There’s also the aspect that it was deemed a crime at a period when duelling to defend one’s reputation was popular.
There’s also the fact that the IPC ignores irony and refuses to accept honesty as an absolute defence. There’s also the problem that having a civil and criminal recourse for the same offense compels an already overcrowded court to address the same issue repeatedly. But, above all, criminalising defamation is an arbitrary limitation on free speech, given that the worldwide standard is that a civil claim for damages is adequate to preserve one’s image. This excessive limitation on free speech fails to meet the constitutional requirement that such limits be “reasonable,” and it should be repealed. Its stifling impact on freedom of expression and democratic accountability is much too big a risk for the sake of personal reputation.
Civil defamation cases, on the other hand, are not without flaws in India. Defending a lawsuit in Indian courts is well-known for being a time-consuming and costly process that takes years to complete. People and organizations with vast finances profit from this insight. These people challenge their opponents with a long-running defamation suit because they understand they can afford the fees of a lawsuit. In addition, these lawsuits typically seek excessive damages and are brought in a distant court to raise travel expenses.
Such cases have been termed “strategic lawsuits against public participation,” which is an apt description. Strategic lawsuits against public participation defendants, predictably, may not often have the same means as the plaintiffs and find it tough to counter their claims, both monetarily and otherwise. Various notifications demanding numerous lawsuits in different jurisdictions, each for hundreds of crores in damages, are often enough to purchase cooperation in SLAPPs. Defamation reforms would be best done by enacting a new legislation.
Defamation should be decriminalised, and civil defamation should be reformed to ensure equality and transparency, short-circuiting SLAPP techniques. Because this would be a new law, it would be absurd if it didn’t include the Internet and digital media when determining who may be sued for defamation as well as how.
Boundaries on civil defamation should also be established—not only should the damage of image be severe, but the evidence should also be significant. The claimant must show that the claimed comment caused significant harm to their reputation. In defamation cases, facts, viewpoint, and reasonable deduction should all be valid defences. Furthermore, courts ought to have the authority to levy exemplary fees against frivolous lawsuits that squander their time. To relieve the judiciary’s workload, it’s critical that courts only consider severe defamation claims that haven’t been handled satisfactorily.
Making the legal notices that complainants must provide before bringing a lawsuit mandatory might be one approach to achieve this. In order to avoid unfounded charges, these notices should clearly specify how the claimed statement was erroneous. The notice must state where the lawsuit will be filed as well as the amount of damages that will be sought. If a complainant fails to bring a defamation suit within the time limit, they must pay a fourth of the damages sought in the notice to the individual mentioned in the notice. This ensures that defamation allegations and the damages sought are truthful and fair. Techniques to redress the disparity of funds, such as indemnity terms in reporter deals and a type of defamation protection, can be used to support legislative changes.
In Ramesh Thapper v. State of Madras, Patanjali Sastri J. right observed that “Freedom of speech of the press lay at the foundation of all democratic organizations, for without free political discussion no public education, so essential for the proper functioning of the process of popular Government, is possible.”
Eventually, some sort of change is required—free speech is useless without the ability to outrage others in a reasonable manner. The affluent and influential will tend to suppress voices raising critical concerns if the right to properly criticise is not safeguarded. Without these perspectives, the Indian state may be drastically changed or undermined, while People remain in the dark.
E. DEFAMATION VS. FREEDOM OF SPEECH
“Liberty of thought and expression” is embedded in India’s constitution, and Article 19(1)(a) of the constitution guarantees us freedom of speech and expression since everyone has the freedom to voice their thoughts and opinions. Freedom of speech and expression are extremely important in a democratic country like India.
Article 19(1)(a) states that every citizen has the right to freedom of speech and expression, but Article 19(2) places restrictions on this freedom in order to protect the county’s security, morality, and dignity, as well as to avoid civil and criminal defamation.
Unmitigated individual liberties cannot be assured in any modern nation state as without limitations, these rights lead harm to society. If people were allowed total and absolute freedom with no controlling measures, the outcome would’ve been disastrous, but all of these limitations must be justifiable.
The Supreme Court decided in Subramanian Swamy vs. Union of India that the phrase “defamation” employed in Article 19(2) cannot be given a narrow interpretation. The goal of defamation legislation is to safeguard everyone’s dignity.
An individual’s right to reputation under Article 21 cannot be slain for someone else’s right to freedom of expression. Both must be balanced since no sum of money can compensate for the injury to a person’s character. The existence of previous similar writings will not imply that defamatory accusations can be repeated.
A fair comment should exist as a statement and not muddled up with information in order to be justified as a fair comment. The reader must be able to tell the difference between recorded facts and remarks, and a statement must not carry insinuations of dishonest motivation unless it has been properly backed by evidence.
In the case of Swami Ramdev vs. Juggernaut Books , the court held the publication and selling of the book titled “Godman to Tycoon: The Untold Story of Baba Ramdev” was prohibited on the basis that it was defamatory to Baba Ramdev and so violated his Article 21 of the Constitution. The Court added that balancing of both rights i.e. freedom of speech as well as the right to reputation is required since no money can compensate for the loss incurred as a result of a negative influence on a person’s character.
Among the most essential rights that an individual has is the right to keep one’s personal reputation intact. In India, if an individual’s image is harmed in any way, the person who has been harmed can file a lawsuit against the individual who has harmed his reputation. Defamation charges will be brought against the defendant.
The crime under Sections 499-500 is based on English law in some manner; it is not precisely the same, but it is similar in certain ways. S. 499-500 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, governs the present law. The Law Commission Report of 1971 proposed some modest modifications to the text of Sections 499, 500, 501, and 502 of the Code.
Reputation is a valued thing that a person earns throughout his lifetime, from birth to death, and no one has the power to talk negatively about another. The Supreme Court affirmed the constitutional validity of section 499 in Subramanian Swamy v. Union of India . Our basic right to maintain one’s reputation is protected by a criminal law imposed by our legislature.
Author: Abhishek Gupta, Senior Associate.
Disclaimer: The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter and that the same shall not be treated as legal advice. For any queries, the author can be reached at email@example.com