How to File Defamation Case in India?

Law
15-May-2024
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If we look closely at Section 11 of the Indian Penal Code 1860, it also states that the definition of injury includes harm to a person’s body, mind, reputation, and property. Defamation is an act of making false statements about someone that harms one’s reputation. Defamation can occur through spoken words or written communication, which is also known as slander or libel. Defamation laws vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction but are considered defamatory when the statement is false, communicated to others, and results in harm to an individual's reputation. Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code 1860, envisages defamation as a civil wrong in the law of torts.

The most recent defamation case that has grabbed the attention of the public at large is the case of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard. Johnny Depp had sued Amber Heard for defamation for an allegation that she published in the Washington Post in 2018 and the verdict of the case was in the favor of Johnny Depp. He was awarded $10 Million as compensatory damages and $5 Million as punitive damages as Amber Heard was found guilty.

Understanding defamation

In India, defamation can be a civil crime or a criminal offense. In civil law, defamation is essentially the act of harming another person's reputation and the statement should be false and derogatory. As per the criminal law, if a person is found guilty of defamation he or she will face both jail time and the possibility of having to pay restitution. To establish a criminal offense, it is necessary to prove that the intention to defend the person was essentially there; it can either be slander or libel, depending on the statement.

In India, any individual who believes they have been defamed can file a defamation case. This could be the person directly affected by the defamatory statement or someone authorized to act on their behalf, such as a legal representative.

Types of defamation:

  1. Slander - Slander means publication of a defaulter statement in the written form. For instance, anything that is oral or any gesture that might harm the reputation of a person shall be considered as slander. In the matter of Hirabai Jehangir vs Dinshaw Edulji, remarks were made about the chastity of a woman and there was no requirement to prove the special damages.

  2. Libel - It denotes any kind of representation in a permanent form, something which is written, printed, or picturized. It can be in any form, like newspaper articles, magazine stories, online posts, and social media comments. A false statement must result in harm to the reputation of the person or entity and might result in financial loss or damage to the reputation of the person.

There are some differences between the Libel and the Slanders. In the criminal sense, libel is punishable whereas slander is not. Slander is actionable in case of special damages under the law of torts. Unlike English law, Indian law doesn't differentiate between libel and slander.

Essentials

  • Defamatory Statement - To constitute defamation, the statement subjected to any person should cause you humiliation, disrespect, or contempt. In a landmark case, the defendant said in written proof that the plaintiff had received money from LTTE, which is a band organization, and found it to be defamatory.

  • The statement must refer to Plaintiff - To prove the defamation, the statement should be made to the person filing the suit and the intention shall remain immaterial. An article was published in the London Express Newspaper saying that Harold Newstead, who was a Camberwell man, was convicted of bigamy. The case was filed by another person with the same name who was a barber, and it was held that the article did not provide complete information, as a result of which it was seen as a reference to the plaintiff.

  • The statement must be made public - A civil action would be taken when the defamatory statement is made known to a third person, apart from the person to whom it is referred. A private letter containing false information addressed to a person shall not be defamation.

There are certain defenses which do not amount to defamation, such as:

  • A true statement or a justified one;

  • Fair comment in the public interest;

  • Parliamentary or Judicial Proceedings;

  • State Communications;

  • A statement made in the discharge of a duty.

Legal Remedies Available to the Plaintiff

Section 499 to 502 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 deals with the meaning of defamation and its punishment. As per Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860,  ‘Defamation of State’, also known as sedition, means any statement or content which is defamatory against the state. Further, Section 153 ‘Defamation of State’ deals with outrageous comments which harm the religious sentiments of a person.

A civil suit can be filed under Section 19 of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908, which states that any civil wrong done to a person can be justified under this section, even when it doesn't expressly contain the term defamation. As we know, torts are not recognized in India, so there is no specific procedure to file a civil suit for damages.

As per Section 500 of the Indian Penal Code 1860, whoever defames another person should be punished with simple imprisonment of 2 years or with a fine for damages or both. Section 501 states that anyone who will print any defamatory statement for any reason, regarding anyone shall be punishable with simple imprisonment of a maximum of 2 years or with a fine for damages or both. Further, Section 502, says that any person who sells the printed copy on which the defamatory statement is present, then the culprit shall be punishable with a simple imprisonment of a maximum of 2 years or with a fine for damages or both.

Grounds for Filing a Defamation Case

In India, the following grounds can be followed to file a defamation suit in a court of law:

  • When something negative has been said about you either verbally or in writing;

  • The statement or defamatory content was released or shared with a third party;

  • Damage to reputation has happened due to defamatory statements;

  • There is no defense or rationale behind it.

It is important to act promptly in such a situation, as there is a limited period for filing a defamation case.

Procedure to file a Defamation Lawsuit

When considering filing a defamation case, plaintiffs have several options available including initiating either a civil suit or a criminal suit

Filing of a Civil Suit

Section 19 of the Civil Procedure Code 1908 allows you to file a civil suit against a civil wrong done to a person and where the personal rights of an individual are infringed. Hence, a suit for defamation can be filed under Order 7 of the Civil Procedure Code 1908 in the civil courts. The procedure is as follows:

  • A plaint is filed including the name of the court, nature, name, and address of parties, and a declaration by the plaintiff that all the information is right and correct.

  • Post filing, court fees need to be paid which varies from case to case basis. The proceeding begins and then the court decides whether the plaint is substantial or not and a written notice is sent to the defendants.

  • The plaintiff is required to give a processing fee and 2 copies of the plaint within 7 days from the date of notice.

  • Once the submission of written statements is done by the defendants along with the arguments and verification, the plaintiff is required to replicate a response to it. Issues are framed and the list of witnesses is filed within 15 days.

  • The issuance of summons is given by the court to the parties. Cross-examination of witnesses is done and the court announces a final date of hearing.

  • A final order is issued and a certified copy of the order is issued. The aggrieved party can appeal, refer, or review the order if not satisfied with the order.

Filing of a Criminal Suit

Criminal Law Section 499 to 502 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 deals with defamation and its punishment, and as per Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, defamation is also punishable. The procedure to file a defamation case in a police station is as follows:

  • A complaint that is filed by a police officer containing all the details in a diary authorized by the state government is a non-cognizable offense.

  • It is sent to the magistrate with due permission to proceed with the investigation. The magistrate can issue a notice to the accused to appear before the court and start the proceedings.

  • Procurement of evidence is done, and then the final report is filed to the magistrate, concluding the investigation.

  • Two types of final reports are: Closer Report - Reveals that there is no evidence against the alleged charges and the magistrate will either close the case or order further investigation. Charge Sheet - This contains brief facts, a copy of the FIR, Panchanamas, a list of witnesses, seizures, etc.

  • If the court takes cognizance of the case, a warrant is issued to the accused and if no case is made out, then the accused person is discharged.

  • The prosecution produces the witnesses and their cross-examination is done, then the defense lawyer will examine their witnesses. Arguments are commenced and the judge decides whether the accused must be convicted or acquitted.

Conclusion

For every person, reputation and goodwill are invaluable assets, and any damage to them on false and frivolous grounds should warrant a judicial remedy. Even though the law of torts does not function extensively in India, the Indian Penal Code and Civil Procedure Code provide routes to seek legal remedies against any kind of defamation. It is advisable to consult a lawyer for defamation cases to navigate these legal processes effectively.