Defamation A Comparative Analysis’


‘A Comparative Analysis’

Author:- Tush Arora, Bharati Vidyapeeth (Deemed to be) University, Institute of Management and Research, New Delhi


The legality of defamation is one of the topic in increasing dispute these days. Free Speech and Expression are seen as essential rights in a democratic system. These rights are not unqualified, but rather are subject to some reasonable limitations and one of which is defamation. In this research paper we will explore about the evolution, history and many cases along with a detailed comparative study on the present and past cases of defamation. This paper will also examine the laws we have in defamation including the debate between free speech and defamation. It is very important to understand the concept of defamation. Allowing people to enjoy their freedom to free speech and expression without endangering their reputation should be the primary objective of balance. The Court has also concluded that it has complete jurisdiction to take into account common knowledge, historical context, common report, and the conditions that existed at the time of enactment when assessing the reasonableness of limits. Additionally, We will also study about the laws in the defamation along with the critical case analysis study of Subramanian Swamy V. Union of India with special refrence to the Shreya Singhals’s Case whereby the verdict has been critically examined and the related concerns surrounding the defamation controversy have been examined. This essay will also discuss the controversy around defamation and free expression. In light of the aforementioned incidents, it is important to study and comprehend the notion of defamation in order to dispel any uncertainty and create room for an educated agreement on the subject.

Keywords: Defamation, Indian Penal Code, Civil Wrong, Criminal Wrong.


Reputation is the most important thing to everyone, male or female, after life. According to the Black Law Dictionary, defamation is the crime of making a malicious remark that harms someone’s reputation, character, or image. Essentially, defamation refers to any written or spoken comment intended to harm the reputation or image of another individual. The act of spreading a false assertion, either orally or in writing, that damages someone’s reputation is known as defamation and is typically a civil or criminal offense. Defamation has gained international attention due to the many defamation actions that prominent politicians have brought against one another, sometimes on baseless accusations, in an effort to further their political resentment, as well as the ensuing cross-defamation lawsuits. Defamation is the harm or impairment of a person’s reputation. The Latin verb diffamare, which meaning to circulate or distribute information about someone that might damage that person’s reputation, is where the word defamation originates. Consequently, the only thing that constitutes defamation is harming someone’s reputation. Defamation is illegal in both civil and criminal contexts.

 Sections 499–502 of the Indian Penal Code codify slander as a criminal offense in India, whereas the tort law covers defamation as a civil offense. Defamation is defined under Section 499 of the IPC, and anyone found guilty under Section 499 are subject to penalty under Sections 500, 501, and 502. Generally speaking, publishing of false information without the claimed victim’s agreement constitutes defamation. Pictures and words are understood in the context of their publication and in accordance with customary usage. Defamation requires more than just hurt sentiments; there must also be a loss of reputation. The slandered individual must be determinable but does not have to be identified. A group of people is only deemed defamed if the publication mentions every member of the group, especially if the group is tiny, or if certain members are specifically mentioned.

There are two categories of Defamation shown below in comparative form: 

Libel and slander are the two categories into which a defamation case is separated under English law. A libel is the permanent dissemination of false and defamatory information by a third party without any legal basis, such as writing, printing, effigy, etc. Conversely, slander occurs when someone else publishes false and defamatory content in a temporary format – such as spoken words or gestures without providing any legal explanation.



It is addressed through the eyes

It is addressed through the ears

Representation in Permanent form

Depiction in transient form

For Eg: Newspapers , Magzines

For Eg: Gestures, Spoken words

In libel and slander cases, other damages are also available. Libel cases seek compensation for all negative effects of the defamation; they are referred to as special damages if they specifically entail economic loss and as general damages if they encompass reputational harm. The only damages that may be recovered in a slander case are special damages; certain jurisdictions do not distinguish between the two. Various legislation make defamation illegal, but in order to be prosecuted, the defamation must directly harm the public interest. 

The act of defaming someone involves publishing a comment that harms their reputation, diminishes their standing among morally upright people, or causes them to avoid or avoid them is known as Defamation. There are some essential characterstics of defamation; It must be a derogatory statement, The plantiff must be mentioned in the stated assertion, The declaration needs to be made public, that is shared with a minimum of one individual who is not the claimant.

There are few defenses in defamation which are follows as;

Justification or Truth: Although the truth of the published defamatory statement is a full defense in a civil action for defamation, it is not a defense in a criminal action.

Fair Comment: A reasonable remark on topics of public interest serves as a defense against a defamation lawsuit. The requirements needed are; The remark must be an opinion rather than a claim of fact, The topic of the comment must be of public interest, The comment must be fair.

Privilege: The right to free speech sometimes takes precedence over the plaintiff’s right to reputation; in these cases, the law treats the speech as privileged and prohibits legal action for defamatory remarks.


1.To study the Definition, Types and Essentials of Defamation.

2.To understand the History and Evolution of Defamation.

3.To examine Defamation in International Context.

4.To examine Defamation in Indian Context.

5. To examine Defamation Laws In India.


India’s defamation laws have a long history that begins in the 1800s. The Defamation Law was initially conceived in India in 1837 by Lord Macaulay. Defamation was outlawed during British rule with the sole goal of serving the interests of the British government. However, a measure that broadened the meaning of “defamation” and transferred the burden of evidence from the accused to the victim was approved by the Rajiv Gandhi administration following independence. As a result, the administration was obliged to rescind the measure due to a statewide strike. You may find out all you need to know about India’s defamation law here. The history of defamation law dates back to classical antiquity. Defamation law in modern legal systems mostly comes from Roman and early English law, even though it has been acknowledged as an actionable wrong in various forms across historical legal systems as well as in diverse moral and theological philosophies. German and Roman law both have a history of slander. In ancient Rome, it was death punishment to chant abusively. A tongue-cutting penalty was the punishment for insults under early English and German law. In England in the late 1700s, slander was limited to impugning someone’s character or calling into question their professional abilities. The Slander of Women Act made the accusation of unchastity unlawful. Defamation laws in France were quite strict. Retraction of libelous material in a newspaper with conspicuous retraction was criminal by law, and in cases where the publishing included prominent figures, the only defense permitted was the truth. Defamation is illegal in Italy, and lying is rarely an acceptable defense. Slander was punished with tongue-cutting in Anglo-Saxon England, whose legal system predates modern common law countries. In the past, slander or libel against a commoner in England was referred to as scandalum magnatum, or “the scandal of magnates,” in contrast to libel or slander against a member of the nobility.


So the main Question is, how does defamation evolve over time? A person’s reputation, whether it be in the past or the present, is something they have worked hard for their whole lives to build, and when it is damaged, they feel as though everything has been taken from them, even their soul. Defamatory utterances have been defined as hurtful, aggressive, and insulting remarks spoken in public since ancient times. In the 19th century, a police officer in New York alleged that false accusations against him had appeared in the newspaper, setting up the first-ever defamation action. Since then, rules have been put in place to guarantee that people’s privacy and reputations come before their right to free expression. The court said that frank and open discussion on public officials is protected under the First Amendment. A plaintiff who has willingly taken on a public role, such as a public official, must demonstrate that the defamatory remarks were made with reckless disregard for the truth or with knowing that they were untrue. The legislation provides a lower level of constitutional protection to defamatory remarks made by private persons who are not well-known as the plaintiff in a defamation suit. While ordinary persons who have not entered the public eye give up their desire to keep their reputations safe, public personalities willingly put themselves in positions that draw intense scrutiny. Furthermore, celebrities have easier access to tools that allow them to openly refute rumors made about them. Due to these factors, a private citizen’s reputation and privacy interests typically take precedence over concerns about free speech and should be given more protection by the courts, as stated in the case.


Case I : Chaman Lal V. State of Punjab (1970)

In this, The Supreme Court explained in that ruling the basis for determining the true exclusions and actual property in conformity with Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code.

Facts of the Case :

 The case’s facts include that the Municipal Corporation President addressed a letter criticizing a service related to the neighborhood hospital. In compliance with Indian Penal Code Section 499, a complaint was filed against the accused. The accused stated that she vowed to dedicate herself to them in good faith if the charges were accurate. Imputations have been made in compliance with the appropriate regulatory body.

Observations :

 The accused used to be sentenced to a basic two-month jail sentence, or the Supreme Court established the following criteria for proving helpful religion and then bona fides

The following scenarios show that although the slip was originally written, words have been said.

  1. If somebody used to harbor animosity.
  2. Did the accused ask anybody questions before making the accusation?
  3. If there are any justifications for acting cautiously or seriously in tandem with accepting the model’s delivery.
  4. The accused behaved in good faith, regardless of whether there is even a remote possibility of chance in that amount.

The Supreme Court acknowledged that a character’s interest “needs to keep actual then legit when communication is done of safety on the pastime concerning the person make it,” as per the definition of an interest. If this is the true, then suitable creeds immediately incorporate correct worship, and so no longer require intellectual infallibility.

Case II: Mohammad Abdulla Khan V. Prakash K (2018)

This statute looked at the vicarious burden theory in relation to criminal defamation offenses.

Facts of the Case : 

An allegation was filed under Sections 500, 501, or 502 of the Indian Penal Code against the respondent, who was the only owner of the letter known as Jaya Kirana. The complainant appealed the Sessions Court’s rejection of the case to the High Court in line with Section 482 of the Criminal Procedure Code. Nevertheless, the High Court has since died, so the charge of contempt is now limited to the message’s sender rather than its owner, and the penal code no longer makes reference to vicarious encumbrance. In the past, the High Court held that the owner would disclose postulate discipline since the behavior would appear to be an attempt to evade justice. The request was totally against this discipline relating to the High Court.

Observations : 

The Supreme court made the observation that; “The extent on the applicability about the precept on vicarious burden in criminal law, specifically within the connection of the offences pertaining to according to scorn requires a great test in great cases because the owner about a letter employs people to print, post, or promote the letter in exchange for a monetary gain on the said activity.” It was previously decided that it would be excellent for the owner and writer of the newspaper, as well as people who supply goods or services in response to demand, to be expected to lie in order to commit the offence of blame under Section 501 of the Indian Penal Code, should the situation warrant it.


Case I: Stuart Campbell V. Kezia Dugdale (2020) CSIH 27

Facts of the Case: 

Mr. Campbell runs the associated Twitter account and blog, “Wings Over Scotland.” His mannerisms “may be impolite,” according to the Inner House. Leading the Scottish Labour Party, Ms. Dugdale wrote a weekly column for the Daily Record. In a piece, Ms. Dugdale called Mr. Campbell “someone who spouts hatred and homophobia towards others” and called one of his tweets “homophobic.”Filing a defamation lawsuit against Ms. Dugdale, Mr. Campbell said that the accusation that he was homophobic was false. 

Observations : 

Lord President Carloway, who sat with Lord Menzies and Lord Brodie, delivered the court’s opinion. He said that although Ms. Dugdale’s article claimed that Mr. Campbell had sent homophobic tweets, it was fair comment because it was presented as commentary rather than fact. “It is important to look at both the visual and textual context in which the article appears” , he said. “A page devoted to the defender’s opinions on politics and other subjects has the defender’s article at the top of it. It’s not included in the section on news reporting. It is supplemented by articles about Hibernian FC’s success, trade unions in supermarkets, the Conservatives’ austerity agenda, and gender equality. The context suggests that this is an opinion essay rather than a factual one. “The sheriff’s assessment that this was a reasonable remark is supported by the court. The pursuer’s tweet was disparaging and included an unnecessary allusion to the homosexuality of Oliver Mundell’s father. Even if Ms. Dugdale used strong, if not aggressive, language in her remarks, this did not exclude fair criticism as a defense. 

The court would have enhanced the sheriff’s judgment of damages from £100 to £5,000 if Mr. Campbell had been successful in his appeal because “the correct approach is to make an award of some substance, even when there has been no serious impact on a person’s reputation.”

Case II: Depp V. News Group Newspapers (2020) EWHC 2911 (QB)

On November 2, 2020, the much awaited ruling in Depp v. News Group Newspapers ([2020] EWHC 2911 (QB)) was delivered.  Nicol J ruled that Mr. Depp’s libel action was unsuccessful as the accusations against him of being a “wife beater” were deemed to be largely accurate.

Facts of the Case: 

Johnny Depp, a well-known actor in Hollywood, is the claimant. The Sun’s executive editor and publisher are the defendants. The headline of an internet story titled “GONE POTTY: How can JK Rowling be “genuinely thrilled” casting wife beater Johnny Depp in the new Fantastic Beasts film?” appeared on April 27, 2018. The article’s headline was then changed to exclude the term “wife beater,” but the content stayed the same. The story alluded to claims that Mr. Depp had frequently acted violently against his ex-wife, Amber Heard. The parties agreed that the following was the natural and common interpretation of the phrases that were complained of:

i) Ms. Heard was the victim of physical abuse by the claimant.

ii) This caused her significant injuries. 

Observations :

14 days of testimony were heard, plus an additional 2 days for closing arguments. To comply with government instructions and limits in reaction to the Covid-19 outbreak, the trial was held in two courtrooms at the Royal Courts of Justice.

The parties reached an agreement on the most important aspects of the terms’ natural and usual meaning. The year’s most prominent libel trial.  Actor Johnny Depp made this accusation against the Sun newspaper’s publisher. The case was taken in response to a story that called him “wife beater Depp.”   Following a 16-day trial, Nicol J withheld his decision for three months.  In his 128-page ruling, he found that: “The claimant’s libel case has not been successful. The defendants have demonstrated that what they published in the interpretation of the words that I have determined to be accurate was essentially true, despite the fact that he has established the components required for his libel case. Heard was ultimately declared guilty. Depp received a $15 million damage award from the jury, but that amount was eventually lowered to about $10 million. Heard, meanwhile, was given a $2 million damage award, which she later challenged. In the end, Heard and Depp got married in December 2022.


A more effective method of implementing defamation changes would be to enact constitutional law. Defamation need to be decriminalized, and civil defamation ought to be changed to make it more equal and uncomplicated in order to steer clear of tactics like strategic lawsuits against public participation. It would be silly to exclude the Internet and new media from the definition of who can be sued for defamation and how, given that this is a new legislation. There should be restrictions on civil defamation as well. The best way to address defamation is to pass a constitutional legislation. SLAPP tactics should be avoided by decriminalizing defamation and reforming civil defamation laws to make them more equitable and straightforward. It would be foolish for this new regulation to exclude the Internet and new media from its calculations of who may be sued for defamation and how. Establishing restrictions on civil defamation is also necessary. The proof needs to be substantial in addition to the seriousness of the loss of credibility. The defendant has to prove that their reputation was materially harmed by the claimed comment. Facts, belief, and logical inference can all be strong defenses in defamation cases. Lastly, courts have to have the power to impose exemplary fees in order to deter pointless litigation that squander their resources. It is imperative that courts only consider serious defamation matters that have not been settled amicably in order to reduce the workload of the system. One method to make sure of this would be to make the legal notifications that complainants must file before to launching a lawsuit mandatory. These alerts ought to provide a description of the purported statement’s falsity in order to prevent baseless accusations. It is recommended that the Central Bureau of investigative establish an autonomous cybercrime investigative unit. This unit should be established independently so that it can handle cybercrimes like cyberde famation and be directly under the control of the federal government. To assist them deal with offenders rapidly, every district in India should have a cyber cell police station run by investigative officers who are knowledgeable about cyber laws. To inform the public about cybercrime and the safety measures that should be taken, the government should start public awareness campaigns.


Protecting people’s reputations is the goal of defamation legislation. How to strike a balance between this objective and competing demands for freedom of speech is its main problem. Both of these objectives are highly valued in modern culture; the latter is seen as the cornerstone of a democratic society, and the former as maybe the most prized characteristic of civilized beings. Section 499 lays forth the circumstances in which someone should be held accountable for bringing false charges against them as well as the circumstances in which the exceptions may apply to their behavior. Despite the well-known controversies surrounding that incident, the legal system has been instrumental in providing answers to many concerns as they arise. After settling the issues related to the offense, the Law Commission is now supporting the creation of proposals as well. Since everyone values having a good reputation, the crime of abuse is equally significant since it infringes against the Indian Constitution’s Article 19 freedom to address or express oneself in line with one’s convictions. Freedom of expression is seriously jeopardized by the criminalization of defamation, especially in light of the proliferation of online new media outlets. Although defamation is legitimately employed to shield people from insults to their dignity, it is far too frequently abused to punish and quiet criticism. In a recent development, it is also being utilized to SLAPP opponents of strong commercial interests and to silence victims of gender-based abuse. Despite the current trend toward the decriminalization of defamation, legal safeguards against other tactics used by activists to silence them, including SLAPP actions, must be put in place, decisions must be followed, and other insult laws must no longer carry criminal penalties. Defamation is a tort that happens when someone’s reputation is damaged. It is the act of lying to a third party in order to damage the reputation of another. A breach of one’s reputation is called defamation. The goal of the defamation legislation is to shield people’s reputations from unjustified criticism. In actuality, its primary effects are to stifle free speech and shield influential individuals from criticism. People can file lawsuits under defamation laws against persons who make or publish hurtful or untrue remarks.

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