The reputation of a person is of utmost importance to him. It can be said to be his property, in some cases, more valuable than his property. It is not a very appreciable idea to injure the reputation of a person ( some exceptions).

Defamation is an injury to the reputation of a person. Defamation can be oral or written. For example, a person may defame another orally, in front of a large crowd, or through written ways using newspapers, magazines, or social media.

Defamation is a concept treated differently under English Law and Indian Law, with some similarities.

In English Law, the oral form or the form of words and gestures is called slander, and representations made in the written form are termed libel.  In English Criminal Law, only libel has been recognized as an offense. But in Indian law, both, libel and slander are criminal offenses under section 499 I.P.C.

But can any statement made concerning a person be termed as defamation?

No, that is not the case. Some prerequisites exist and they must be fulfilled for a statement to come under the ambit of defamation. Let us look into them

  1. The statement should be defamatory– As described earlier, a defamatory statement tends to injure the reputation of an individual. Whether a statement is defamatory or not depends on how the right-thinking members of society are likely to take it. The standard to be applied is that of a right-minded citizen, a man of fair intelligence.
  2. Statement in question must refer to the individual concerned – The statement must refer to the individual. I must be understood by right-thinking or reasonable-minded persons, as referring to the individual.
  3. The statement must be published– Published here does not refer to a newspaper or a book. It conveys that the statement must be communicated to some other person other than the individual himself.

What happens if someone files a case of defamation in a court of law against you or some family member of yours? Will you be liable and will you pay the damages for the same? Do you have some defenses at your hand that you can produce before the hon’ble court to set yourself free? Yes, sure some defenses can be used. Some of them are discussed below.

  1. Justification or truth – If it is somehow proved that the statement made is true, it serves as a good defense. But even ‘ truth’ is not a complete defense. It needs to be proved that the statement was made for the public good ( for example an article of a newspaper under inspection).
  2. Fair comment-  Making fair comments on matters of public interest is a defense to an act of defamation. But the following essentials are required for this defense to be used.

Firstly, it must be a comment; an assertion of opinion rather than fact. Secondly, the comment must be fair and thirdly, it must be made in the public interest.

3. Privileges- Absolute or Qualified- Some exceptions to cases of defamation exist. For example, absolute privilege is recognized in the Parliamentary Proceedings or Judicial Proceedings. That implies statements made here need no justification even though written or spoken maliciously. Qualified proceedings include matters like the publication of parliamentary proceedings or reports of parliamentary, judicial, or other public proceedings.

Defamation may seem an intricate topic, but it is not so. The phrase ‘choose your words wisely’ seems to apply very well in the case of defamation!

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