SECTION 499 IPC - Indian Penal Code - Defamation


Description

Whoever by words either spoken or intended to be read, or by signs or by visible representations, makes or publishes any imputation concerning any person intending to harm, or knowing or having reason to believe that such imputation will harm, the reputation of such person, is said, except in the cases hereinafter excepted, to defame that person.



Section 499- Defamation

In India, defamation is an offence under both the civil and the criminal law. On one hand, the remedy for a civil defamation is covered under the Law of Torts while, on the other hand, criminal defamation is covered under the Indian Penal Code. In case of a civil defamation, a person who has been defamed can move either to high court or subordinate courts and can seek damages as monetary compensation from the accused. However, the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860 provides an opportunity for the defamed person to file a criminal case against the accused under section 499. Under section 499 and 500 of the IPC, a person can be sent to jail for two years if he is found guilty for committing criminal defamation.

What amounts to Defamation under section 499 of IPC?

Defamation refers to the act of publication of defamatory content that lowers the reputation of an individual or an entity on being observed through the perspective of an ordinary man. If defamation occurs in spoken words and gestures (or other such transitory form) then it is termed as slander and the same if in written or printed form is called libel.

According to Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code, the offence of defamation can be caused only by spoken words or words that are intended to be read or by signs or by visible representations. In the absence of these, a charge of defamation fails. By any of these four ways stated above the offender must either make or publish any imputation which concerns the victim.

This must be done either with the intention of harming the reputation of such person or with the knowledge or having reason to believe that such imputation will harm the reputation of such person. Whether the reputation of such person is really harmed or not is of no consequence as far as the liability of the offender is concerned.

Illustrations :

  1. A says- "Z is an honest man; he never stole B's watch"; in¬tending to cause it to be believed that Z did steal B’s watch. This is defamation, unless it fall within one of the exceptions.

  2. A is asked who stole B’s watch. A points to Z, intending to cause it to be believed that Z stole B’s watch. This is defama¬tion unless it fall within one of the exceptions.

  3. A draws a picture of Z running away with B’s watch, intending it to be believed that Z stole B’s watch. This is defamation, unless it fall within one of the exceptions.


Exceptions to Criminal Defamation (Section 499)

The exceptions to criminal defamation has been listed below:


  1. Imputation of truth which public good requires to be made or published- It is not defamation to impute anything which is true concerning any person, if it be for the public good that the imputation should be made or published. Whether or not it is for the public good is a question of fact.

  2. Public conduct of public servants- It is not defamation to express in a good faith any opinion whatsoever with respect to the conduct of a public servant in the discharge of his public functions, or with respect to his character, so far as his character appears in that conduct, and nothing else.

  3. Conduct of any person touching any public question- It is not defamation to express in good faith any opinion whatsoever with respect to the conduct of any person touching any public question, and with respect to his character, so far as his character appears in that conduct, and nothing else.
    Illustrations :
    It is not defamation in A to express in good faith any opinion whatever respecting Z’s conduct in petitioning Government on a public question, in signing a requisition for a meeting on a public question, in presiding or attending such a meeting, in forming or joining any society which invites the public support, in voting or canvassing for a particular candidate for any situa-tion in the efficient discharges of the duties of which the public is interested.

  4. Publication of reports of proceedings of Courts- 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. A Justice of the Peace or other officer holding an inquiry in open Court preliminary to a trial in a Court of Justice, is a Court within the meaning of the above section.

  5. Merits of case decided in Court or conduct of witnesses and others concerned- It is not defamation to express in good faith any opinion whatsoever with respect to the merits of any case, civil or criminal, which has been decided by a Court of Justice, or regarding the conduct of any person as a party, witness or agent, in any such case, or the character of such person, as far as his character appears in that conduct, and nothing else.
    Illustrations :
    a) A says- “I think Z’s evidence on that trial is so contradic¬tory that he must be stupid or dishonest”. A is within this exception if he says this is in good faith, in as much as the opin¬ion which he expresses respects Z’s character as it appears in Z’s conduct as a witness, and no further.
    b) But if A says- “I do not believe what Z asserted at that trial because I know him to be a man without veracity”; A is not within this exception, in as much as the opinion which he express of Z’s character, is an opinion not founded on Z’s conduct as a witness.

  6. Merits of public performance- It is not defamation to express in good faith any opinion with respect to the merits of any performance which its author has submitted to the judgment of the public, or regarding the character of the author so far as his character appears in such performance, and nothing else. A performance may be submitted to the judgment of the public expressly or by acts on the part of the author which imply such submission to the judgment of the public.
    Illustrations :
    a) A person who publishes a book, submits that book to the judgment of the public.
    b) A person who makes a speech in public, submits that speech to the judgment of the public.
    c) An actor or singer who appears on a public stage, submits his acting or signing in the judgment of the public.
    d) A says of a book published by Z- “Z’s book is foolish; Z must be a weak man. Z’s book is indecent; Z must be a man of impure mind”. A is within the exception, if he says this in good faith, in as much as the opinion which he expresses of Z respects Z’s character only so far as it appears in Z’s book, and no further.
    e) But if A says- “I am not surprised that Z’s book is foolish and indecent, for he is a weak man and a libertine”. A is not within this exception, in as much as the opinion which he expresses of Z’s character is an opinion not founded on Z’s book.

  7. Censure passed in good faith by person having lawful authority over another- It is not defamation if a person having over another any authority, either conferred by law or arising out of a lawful contract made with the other person, to pass in good faith any censure on the conduct of that other in matters to which such lawful authority relates.
    Illustrations :
    A Judge censuring in good faith the conduct of a witness, or of an officer of the Court; a head of a department censuring in good faith those who are under his orders; a parent censuring in good faith a child in the presence of other children; a school-master, whose authority is derived from a parent, censuring in good faith a pupil in the presence of other pupils; a master censuring a servant in good faith for remissness in service; a banker censur¬ing in good faith the cashier of his bank for the conduct of such cashier as such cashier—are within this exception.

  8. Accusation preferred in good faith to authorised person- It is not defamation to prefer in good faith an accusation against any person by any person who has lawful authority over that person with respect to the subject-matter of accusation.
    Illustrations :
    If A in good faith accuse Z before a Magistrate; if A in good faith complains of the conduct of Z, a servant, to Z’s master; if A in good faith complains of the conduct of Z, and child, to Z’s father- A is within this exception.

  9. Imputation made in good faith by person for protection of his or other's interests- It is not defamation to make an imputation on the character of another provided that the imputation be made in good faith for the protection of the interests of the person making it, or of any other person, or for the public good.
    Illustrations :
    a) A, a shopkeeper, says to B, who manages his business- “Sell nothing to Z unless he pays you ready money, for I have no opin¬ion of his honesty”. A is within the exception, if he has made this imputation on Z in good faith for the protection of his own interests.
    b) A, a Magistrate, in making a report of his own superior offi¬cer, casts an imputation on the character of Z. Here, if the imputation is made in good faith, and for the public good, A is within the exception.

  10. Caution intended for good of person to whom conveyed or for public good- It is not defamation to convey a caution, in good faith, to one person against another, provided that such caution be intended for the good of the person to whom it is conveyed, or of some person in whom that person is interested, or for the public good.

Punishment for Criminal Defamation

If a person is found guilty of having committed defamation in terms of Section 499 of the IPC, the punishment is stipulated in Section 500, i.e. simple imprisonment for up to two years along with fine. The Criminal Procedure Code, which lays down the procedural aspects of the law, states that the offence is non-cognizable and bailable. Those who are accused of the offence would generally not be taken into custody without a warrant, and as such, an aggrieved person would not be able to simply file a police complaint but would, in most cases, have to file a complaint before a magistrate.

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