What legal pleas are open to a person charged with defamation?   [MPCJ 2009]

Ans. Section 499 IPC defines the offence of defamation with specificity and particularity and enumerates ten broad Exceptions when statements against a person will not be considered defamatory. The provided exceptions are as under when an accused even after making defamatory statement may prove the required essentials only to the extent of preponderance of probability to avoid his conviction.

1st Exception:- unlike justification in tort, It does not protect truth as an absolute defence. It becomes available only if it is cumulatively proved that what has been imputed concerning the complainant is true and the publication of the imputation is for the public good. Thus, two ingredients are, namely, truth of the imputation and the publication of the imputation for the public good.

2nd Exception:- Every citizen has a right to comment on those act of public men which concern him as a citizen of the country, if he does not make his commentary a cloak for malice or slander. The Hon’ble apex court has in Kartar Singh vs State of Punjab AIR 1956 SC 541 held that those who fill a public position must not be too thiny skinned in reference to comments made upon them. Whoever fills a public position renders himself open to attack. He must accept an attack as a necessary, though unpleasant appendage to his office.

Since, under instant exception accuse is required to show that the opinion expressed

by him was in good faith. So, such comment to be fair must has following attributes-

  • It must be based on facts truly stated.
  • It must not impute corrupt or dishonourable motive to the person whose conduct or work is criticised except in so far as such imputations are warranted by the facts.

(i) It must be honest expression of the writer’s real opinion made in good faith.

3rd Exception:- unlike 2nd exception it is not confined to public servants. It enables to comment in good faith on the conduct and character of the any person touching to public question. It does not protect truth as an absolute defence. It embraces a very wide area for fair comment. So, the conduct of any person who takes part in matters concerning to the public can be commented on in good faith.

4th Exception:- It is not defamation to publish substantially true report of the proceedings of a court of justice or of the result of any such proceedings.

5th Exception:- It is not defamation to express in good faith any opinion regarding the merits of any decided civil or criminal case or with respect to conduct of any party , witness or agent in such case or even the character of such person as far as his character appears in that conduct.

6th Exception:- It is not defamation to comment in good faith on the merits of any performance, if the author of such performance has submitted it to the judgment of the public either expressly or impliedly, including on the character of the author so far as his character appears in such performance.

7th Exception:- It is not defamation to pass in good faith any censure on the conduct of any person by another person who is either under authority of law or by way of lawful cotract has gained the stature of controlling authority with respect to the matters to which his authority relates.

8th Exception:- Uner it, making over an accusation in good faith against any person before any lawful authority  is not defamation.

9th Exception:- The required ingredients are firstly that the imputation must be made in good faith; secondly, the imputation must be made for protecting the of the interest of the maker or recipient of the communication or for the public good.

10th Exception:- The required ingredients are that the accused intended in good faith to convey a caution to one person against another intending for the good of the person to whom the caution was conveyed or to some person in whom that person is interested or for the public goods.

The aforementioned exceptions of section 499 of the IPC are exhaustive in nature and recourse cannot be had to the English common law to add new grounds of exceptions as held by hon’ble apex court in M. C.Verghese vs T. J. Ponnan AIR 1970 SC 1876.

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