What Is The Difference Between Civil & Criminal Defamation?


Defamation is the demonstration of offering false statements about somebody that can harm their reputation. It depends on false data circled to harm an individual's reputation, decrease their regard, or initiate pessimistic sentiments against them. In India, defamation is culpable under the civil and criminal law.

It is characterized under Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC). An individual is said to defame somebody if he/she hurts his/her reputation by conveying misleading statements through verbally expressed or written words, pictures, or signs.

As indicated by the law, defamation is of two sorts:

  • At the point when defamation is verbally expressed, it is called slander.
  • At the point when it is written down, it is called libel.

Defamation Under Civil Law

Defamation in civil law goes under the ambit of the Law of Torts. Civil defamation especially centers around defamation that has been brought about by libel only. It doesn't think about defamation by slander. Subsequently, any defamation that is caused because of the distribution of false components in a composed or printed configuration may be viewed as defamation, as tort or civil defamation. It is likewise remarkable that defamation must only be done to an individual who is alive and not dead. Under Indian civil law, defamation is punishable under the law of torts by imposing punishment in the form of damages to be awarded to the claimant.

Elements of Civil Defamation

To establish civil defamation in India, certain elements must be proven:


The defamatory statement must be communicated to a third party, either verbally, in writing, or through any other medium that reaches a wider audience. In the case of Mahendra Ram v. Harnandan Prasad, it was said when a defamatory letter is written in Urdu to the plaintiff, and he doesn’t know Urdu, he asks a third person to read it, it is not defamation unless it was proved that at the time of writing the letter, the defendant knew that Urdu was not known to the plaintiff.

Reference to Plaintiff

If the person to whom the statement was published could reasonably infer that the statement referred to the plaintiff, the defendant is nevertheless liable. In Hulton & Co. v. Jones, a fictional article was published in a newspaper in which imputations were cast on the character of a fictitious person named Artemus Jones. A person with the same name filed a suit as his friends and relatives believe that the article referred to him. The defendants were held liable even though the publication was made without any intention of defame.

The Delhi HC in Harsh Mendiratta v. Maharaj Singh said that an action for defamation was maintainable only by the person who was defamed and not by his friends or relatives.

Defamatory Statement

The defamatory statement must hurt the reputation of the individual or entity concerned. In D.P. Choudhary v. Kumari Manjulata, a local paper, distributed a proclamation in regard to the departure of a young lady (Manjulata), who was 17 years of age, with a boy named Kamlesh after going to night classes. The statement was untrue and without any justification. Such publication also affected the reputation of her family as well as her marriage prospects, hence the defendants were held liable for the same and the girl was entitled to damages by way of general damages.

Defenses against Civil Defamation

Justification or truth 

Under criminal law, merely proving that the statement was true is no defense, but in Civil law, merely showing the truth is a good defense.

Fair Comment

Any fair comment on matters of public interest is a defense against an action for defamation. Matters related to public companies, the courts, government administration, public representatives, public novels, etc. are considered to be matters of public interest.


There are certain occasions when the law recognizes the right to freedom of speech outweighs the plaintiff’s right to reputation. The law treats those occasions as

‘Privileged’. There are a further two types –

  • Absolute privilege-No action lies in the defamatory statement even though the statement is false or made maliciously.
  • Qualified privilege- It is necessary that the statement must have been without malice. The defendant has to prove that the statement was made on a privileged occasion fairly.


 Where the defendant has conveyed or distributed specific material with the consent of the offended party or the offended party himself has welcomed the respondent to repeat the defamatory words, the respondent can argue this defense of consent.

Defamation Under Criminal Law

The laws of criminal defamation have been codified under Section 499 of the IPC and to fall inside the bounds of this section, an individual must've made an attribution about someone else with either a goal, information, or motivation to accept that such an attribution will hurt the reputation of the individual against whom such an attribution is made. This attribution could be either by words, signs, or noticeable portrayals, and they could either be made or distributed. The distinction between the making of an attribution and the distribution of an attribution is that, while in the former, the correspondence of the attribution is just to the individual concerned, in the latter, the correspondence of the attribution is to a third party.

Under Criminal Law, defamation is a bailable, non-cognizable, and compoundable offense. Subsequently, the police can't begin an investigation of defamation without a warrant from a judge. The accused likewise has the privilege to look for bail. Further, the charges can be dropped assuming the person in question and the accused enter into a compromise to that effect. The punishment for defamation, referenced under Section 500 of the IPC, can expand up to basic imprisonment for a term of two years, or with a fine, or both.

Exceptions to Defamation

Section 499 of the IPC provides for 10 cases which are not to be considered as defamation. An accused charged with the offense of defamation may take the resort of these ten exceptions as a defense. These are the privileged occasions. These privileged occasions exempt a person from criminal liability. These exceptions are as follows:

 Public Good

This exception pertains to imputations of truth made or published for the public good. This exception relates to the imputation of truth made or distributed for the public good. It considers the dispersal of information that is valid and helpful to the public interest, regardless of whether it might hurt the reputation of the people included. For instance, a news report uncovering corruption in government foundations would fall under this special case, as it serves the public interest by advancing transparency and responsibility.

Public Conduct of Public Servants

This special case applies to opinions communicated sincerely concerning the conduct or character of public servants in the release of their public capabilities. It considers analysis and examination of public authorities' activities, as long as the analysis depends on their conduct in their authority limit. However, opinions about their character beyond their public conduct may still be subject to defamation claims.

 Merits of a Case or Conduct of Witnesses:

People reserve the privilege to offer opinions sincerely in regard to the benefits of legal cases or the conduct of witnesses, parties, or agents associated with those cases. This exemption safeguards people who give honest opinions about the qualities or shortcomings of a case or the credibility of witnesses, as long as the opinions depend on the conduct observed during the legal proceedings.

 Bona Fide Accusation:

Allegations with good intentions to authorized people are safeguarded under this special case. It permits people to submit allegations or complaints to proper authorities without fear of defamation claims, as long as the allegations are made with good intentions and with real confidence in their truthfulness.

Conveying Caution:

This special case takes into consideration the conveyance of caution planned to bring about some benefit for the individual to whom it is conveyed or for the public good. It licenses people to give warnings pointed toward forestalling harm or advancing public security, as long as the caution is conveyed with honest intentions and with an earnest goal to serve the interests of the beneficiary or the public.

In India Is Defamation Both a Civil & Criminal Offense

Section 499 and 500 of IPC

As per Section 499 of the IPC, whoever, by words either verbally expressed or intended to be perused, or by signs or by apparent portrayals, makes or distributes any attribution concerning any individual meaning to harm, or knowing or having the motivation to accept that such attribution will hurt, the reputation of such individual, is expressed, besides in the cases hereinafter expected, to defame that individual.

Section 500, which is punishment for defamation, reads: “Whoever defames another shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with a fine, or with both.”

In a civil defamation case, an individual who is criticized can move to either the High Court or subordinate courts and look for damages as monetary pay from the accused. Likewise, under Sections 499 and 500 of the IPC, an individual at fault for criminal defamation can be sent off to prison for 2 years, or a fine, or both.

Right To Freedom of Speech and Expression:

Article 19(1)(a) presents the right to freedom of speech and expression for all citizens and Article 19(2) permits the state to impose regulations to force sensible limitations on this right in light of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, cordial relations with foreign states, public order, goodness or morality in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offense.

Defamation is an optimal weapon for powerful people to silence critical or inconvenient speech. In this way, Sections 499-500 of the IPC are violative of the right to freedom of speech and expression given under Article 19 of the constitution.

Case Laws

In the case of Subramanian Swamy v. Union of India, Dr. Subramanian Swamy, a politician and well-known person, tested the constitutionality of criminal defamation regulations in India. He contended that criminal defamation regulations abused the right to freedom of speech and expression ensured under Article 19(1)(a) of the constitution. The Supreme Court maintained the legality of the criminal offense of defamation under Sections 499 and 500 of the IPC. The Court based its decision on other nations' rulings on the subject, concluding that the Right to Reputation falls within Article 21 of the Indian Constitution's Right to Life. The Supreme Court struck down claims to the constitutional legitimacy of the Indian judicial system's criminal defamation offense.

Tata Sons, the holding company of the Tata Group, filed a defamation lawsuit against Greenpeace International and one of its workers in the case of Tata Sons Limited v. Greenpeace International & Anr (2012). Tata Sons claimed that Greenpeace International had disseminated false information regarding the group and its engagement in an Indian coal mining project. The court ruled in favor of Tata Sons and awarded damages for defamation.

This case represents how civil defamation suits can be utilized by partnerships or people to safeguard their reputations and seek damages for any harm brought about by defamatory statements.

In synopsis, defamation is both a common and a criminal offense. The solution for civil defamation is covered under the Law of Torts in the form of monetary damages and concerning criminal defamation, the remedy, as punishment, is systematized under Section 500 of the IPC.

Difference Between Civil and Criminal Defamation



Civil Defamation

Criminal Defamation

Nature of Offense

It is a private wrong when someone's reputation is harmed as a result of someone else making false claims. Tort law is the main tool used to remedy it, and it aims to compensate financially for any harm done.

Publishing defamatory content with the purpose of causing harm or knowing it to be untrue is a public offense. It is regarded as a criminal offense against society and is subject to government punishment.

Purpose of the Action

The goal is to get the offended party's reputation repaired and compensated for any harm done.

By penalizing individuals who commit defamation with criminal intent, the aim is to protect society's order and deter hostile attacks on reputation.

Initiator of the Action

Civil defamation acts are started by the aggrieved party or plaintiff, who files a claim looking for damages against the party liable for offering false expressions.

Criminal defamation activities are started by the state through the prosecution of the accused party (defendant) for perpetrating defamation as a criminal offense.

Burden of Proof

The obligation to prove any claims lies with the offended party, who should exhibit that the assertions were false, distributed, or imparted to a third party, and hurt their reputation.

The obligation to prove any claims lies with the prosecution, which should lay out for certain that the accused offered false expressions with malicious purposes or knowledge of their deception.


The essential cure looked for in civil defamation cases is financial pay or damages to moderate the harm caused to the offended party's reputation.

Punishment for criminal defamation, as per Section 500 of the IPC, might incorporate detainment, fines, or both, as specified by the court upon conviction.


Intent is definitely not an essential component in civil defamation cases, as the emphasis is on the misrepresentation of the assertions and the damage caused to the offended party's reputation.

Intent is a vital component in criminal defamation cases, as the prosecution should demonstrate that the accused acted with a malevolent purpose or knowledge of the misrepresentation of the assertions.

Public/Private Nature

A civil defamation lawsuit is a personal dispute involving the person who made false claims and the person who was wronged.

Criminal defamation is a public matter that includes state mediation and prosecution of the accused for perpetrating a criminal offense against society.

Role of the Victim

The victim in civil defamation cases assumes the part of the offended party, looking for remuneration for the harm caused to their reputation.

The victim in criminal defamation cases might act as a witness for the prosecution, however, the state starts to lead in pursuing charges against the accused.

Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations for recording a civil defamation claim differs by jurisdiction yet ranges from one to three years from the date of distribution of the defamatory material.

The statute of limitations for starting criminal defamation procedures is for the most part longer than that for civil defamation and may shift depending upon the jurisdiction and material regulations.

Defenses Available

Defenses accessible in civil defamation cases might incorporate truth, privilege, fair comment, and consent.

Defenses accessible in criminal defamation cases might incorporate truth, good faith, and absence of malicious intent.

Legal Proceedings

Civil defamation procedures are conducted in civil courts, where the offended party records a complaint or suit against the defendant looking for damages for harm caused to their reputation.

Criminal defamation procedures are started by the state and led in criminal courts, where the accused is arraigned for perpetrating defamation as a criminal offense.


In conclusion, the goals, processes, and results of criminal and civil defamation cases are different. The plaintiff bears the burden of proof in civil defamation trials, focusing on compensating the victim for reputational harm. On the other hand, criminal defamation proceedings entail state prosecution with the goal of penalizing the offender for uttering false remarks with the purpose to do harm. These Section 499 of the IPC exclusions to defamation offer crucial protections for the right to free speech and expression while yet acknowledging the necessity to preserve people's reputations and interests.