Friday, June 6, 2014

'Defamation' under Indian Penal Code

‘Defamation’ may be a criminal or civil charge. It encompasses both written statements, known as libel, and spoken statements, called slander.

The criminal law on defamation has been codified under chapter 21 of the Indian Penal Code (in short IPC) and is containing in Sections 499 to 502 of the IPC.

Section 499 of the IPC defines ‘defamation’ whereas Section 500, IPC is the Penal Section for defamation which reads as ‘whoever defames another shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years or with fine or with both’. In order to justify a charge under Section 500 of IPC, it is required that the allegations satisfy requirement of Section 499, IPC as also the explanations appended thereto.

The offence of ‘defamation’ as defined by Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code 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 expected, to defame that person.

Essential Ingredients of ‘defamation’: -

There are three main ingredients of the offence of defamation

(i) making or publishing any imputation concerning any person; 

(ii) such imputation must have been made by- 

(a) words, either spoken or intended to be read; or 
(b) signs; or 
(c) visible representations. 

(iii) such imputation must be made with the intention of harming or with the knowledge or with reasons to believe that it will harm the reputation of that person.

It is clear that the means rea to cause harm is the most essential sine qua non for an offence under Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code. To constitute ‘defamation’ under Section 499 of the Code, there must be an imputation and such imputation must have been made with intention of having or knowing or having reason to believe that it will harm the reputation of the person about whom it is made. In essence, the offence of defamation is the harm caused to the reputation of a person. It would be sufficient to show that the accused intended or knew or had reason to believe that the imputation made by him would harm the reputation of the complainant, irrespective of whether the complainant actually suffered directly or indirectly from the imputation alleged.

In respect of the offence of defamation, Section 199 of the Code of Criminal Procedure mandates that the Magistrate can take Cognizance of the offence only upon receiving a complaint by a person who is aggrieved. Section 199 of the Cr PC  laid down an exception to the general rule that a criminal complaint can be filed by anyone irrespective of whether he is an ‘aggrieved person’ or not.

If the facts which are the subject of a complaint fall within the limits of the definition in Section 499, IPC construed as the section ought to be, according to the plain meaning of the words therein used, and if they are not covered by any of the exceptions to be found in the Code, then they amount to defamation.

The burden lay upon the accused to show that the statement he had made fell within one or other of the exceptions to Section 499 of IPC, or that he was protected from prosecution by the proviso to Section 132 of the Indian Evidence Act.

 Disclaimer: - All the content is for general use and information. Consult your lawyer before acting upon above information.