Every person has the right to protect and nurture his reputation. It is an inherent right that one can exercise against the whole world. The tort of defamation is responsible for protecting this right. It basically empowers a person to seek compensation against somebody who defames him. Courts often have to balance this right to reputation with the fundamental right of speech and expression. Learn defamation cases here.
Tort of Defamation Cases
Defamation is nothing but the attack on a person’s reputation. It refers to a malicious and deliberate attempt by somebody to harm a person’s reputation. The most important requirement of defamation is that the defamatory statement must be false. Even negative intention may be an ingredient of defamation.
Depending on the manner in which one makes a false statement, defamation may be either libel or slander. Libel basically means defamation in a permanent or written form. For example, a written or printed claim against a person is libel.
On the other hand, slander means a defamatory statement in a transient form. For example, if a person says something defamatory against somebody, he commits slander.
Another difference between libel and slander is the punishment they attract. Under common law, libel is a criminal offence as well as a civil wrong, while slander is just a civil wrong. However, that is not the case in India. According to Indian law, both libel and slander can be criminal offences as well as civil wrongs.
Remedy against Defamation
As we have seen above, defamation is an offence and even a civil wrong. This means that a person suffering defamation can opt for both remedies. He can file a criminal complaint under Section 499 IPC, which defines defamation. Conviction under this provision attracts the punishment of imprisonment unto 2 years or fine or both.
On the other hand, a person suffering from defamation can also file a civil suit claiming damages. The extent of damages depends on factors like the nature of statements, the amount of loss, etc. Many celebrities, politicians and known persons seek crores of Rupees as damages for defamation.
Defences against Defamation
There are certain defences a person can take to escape liability of compensation for defamation. The following are some such defences:
Truth is the most important defence or justification for defamation. This is because only false statements against a person constitute defamation. Hence, if the person making the statements proves them to be true, he can escape liability. However, this defence might not apply in criminal proceedings for defamation.
The burden of proving the truthfulness of a statement always lies on the defendant alone. Furthermore, he must prove the truthfulness in substance and not summarily. If the statement is false, he cannot take the defence of believing it to be true in his own mind.
2) Fair and bona fide comment
The defendant in a claim of defamation can take the defence of making a fair and bona fide comment. Thus, making fair and reasonable criticism without any malicious intention does not amount to defamation. For example, making statements against maladministration by a government’s cabinet minister might not amount to defamation.
The defendant, in this case, needs to prove that he did not possess mala fine intentions. He must also justify his statements by showing how he had fair or bona fide intentions.
The law sometimes grants certain privileges to particular persons in some situations. Any statements by a person enjoying such privileges cannot amount to defamation.
For example, a Member of Parliament has an absolute privilege for any statements he makes in Parliament. The Constitution grants complete immunity from prosecution for defamation for such statements. Such privileges sometimes exist in judicial proceedings as well.
In case the person who makes a defamatory remark later issues an apology, he can escape liability of compensation. For this defence, the person suffering the tort of defamation must accept the apology.
Under English law, amends are justifiable defences for defamation. Amends mean correction or retraction of the defamatory statements by the defendant. For example, a newspaper making a false statement against a person may issue a clarification later.
Solved Examples on Torts Affecting Defamation
Question: Fill in the following blanks.
(a) Remedies for the tort of defamation may be either __________ or __________.
(b) __________ is the most important defence against the tort of defamation.
(c) A __________ has an absolute privilege for statements he makes in the Parliament.
Answers: (a) criminal proceedings or civil action (b) truth (c) Member of Parliament