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Validity of Criminal Defamation Laws in India

Section 499-502 of the IPC deals with criminal defamation in India. Read a famous case about the legality of criminal defamation.
Written by:
Antim Amlan
Published on

In a recent case, Subramanian Swamy v. Union of India, Writ Petition (Criminal) No. 184 Of 2014, Hon’ble Supreme Court of India held that-

A defamatory statement is a statement which tends to lower a person in the estimation of right thinking members of the society generally or to cause him to be shunned or avoided or to expose him to hatred, contempt or ridicule, or to convey an imputation on him disparaging or injurious to him in his office, profession, calling trade or business.

A man’s reputation is not in his own keeping, but lies at the mercy of the profligacy of others. The throwing out of malicious imputations against any character leaves a stain, which no after-refutation can wipe out.

In Vishwanath  Agrawal Saral Vishwanath Agrawal (2012) 7 SCC 288, this Court observed that reputation which is not only the salt of life, but also the purest treasure and the most precious perfume of life. In Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab (1996) 2 SCC 648, this Court observed that the right to reputation is a natural right. A criminal lawyers can assist you about criminal defamation case in India in more detail.

The concept of crime is essentially concerned with social order. The arduous task of protecting the law abiding citizens and punishing the law breakers vests with the State which performs it through the instrumentality of law. The conducts which are prohibited by the law in force at a given time and place are known as wrongful acts or crimes, whereas those which are permissible under the law are treated as lawful. The wrongdoer committing crime is punished for his guilt under the law of crime. A criminal lawyer can help you with a criminal defamation case in India.

In Union of India   Naveen  Jindal  and another (2004) 2 SCC 510, the Court has laid down that freedom of expression is a cornerstone of functioning of the democracy and there is a constitutional commitment to free speech. In Government of Andhra Pradesh and others v. P. Laxmi Devi (2008) 4 SCC 720, it has been ruled that freedom and liberty is essential for progress, both economic and social and without freedom to speak, freedom to write, freedom to think, freedom to experiment, freedom to criticise (including criticism of the Government) and freedom to dissent there can be no progress.

Be that as it may, the aforesaid authorities clearly lay down that freedom of speech and expression is a highly treasured value under the Constitution and voice of dissent or disagreement has to be respected and regarded and not to be scuttled as unpalatable criticism. 

Emphasis has been laid on the fact that dissonant and discordant expressions are to be treated as viewpoints with objectivity and such expression of views and ideas being necessary for growth of democracy are to be zealously protected. Notwithstanding, the expansive and sweeping and ambit of freedom of speech, as all rights, right to freedom of speech and expression is not absolute. It is subject to imposition of reasonable restrictions.

In R. Chaudhuri v. State of Punjab and others (2001) 7 SCC 126, a three-Judge Bench has observed that Constitutional provisions are required to be understood and interpreted with an object-oriented approach. A Constitution must not be construed in a narrow and pedantic sense. The words used may be general in terms but, their full import and true meaning, has to be appreciated considering the true context in which the same are used and the purpose which they seek to achieve. 



To constitute the offence (of defamation), there has to be imputation and it must have made in the manner as provided in the provision with the intention of causing harm or having reason to believe that such imputation will harm the reputation of the person about whom it is made.

Causing harm to the reputation of a person is the basis on which the offence is founded and mens rea is a condition precedent to constitute the said offence. The complainant has to show that the accused had intended or known or had reason to believe that the imputation made by him would harm the reputation of the complainant. 

The criminal offence emphasizes on the intention or harm. Section 44 of IPC defines “injury”. It denotes any harm whatever illegally caused to any person, in body, mind, reputation or property. Thus, the word “injury” encapsulates harm caused to the reputation of any person. It also takes into account the harm caused to a person’s body and mind. Section 499 provides punishment for harm caused to the reputation of a person, that is, the complainant.

In view of the aforesaid analysis, we uphold the constitutional validity of Sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code and Section 199 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. During the pendency of the Writ Petitions, this Court had directed stay of further proceedings before the trial court.

As we declare the provisions to be constitutional, we observe that it will be open to the petitioners to challenge the issue of summons before the High Court either under Article 226 of the Constitution of India or Section 482 CrPC, as advised and seek appropriate relief and for the said purpose, we grant eight weeks time to the petitioners.

The interim protection granted by this Court shall remain in force for a period of eight weeks. However, it is made clear that, if any of the petitioners has already approached the High Court and also become unsuccessful before this Court, he shall face trial and put forth his defence in accordance with law. 

Supreme Court held that the reasonableness and proportionality of a restriction is examined from the standpoint of the interest of the general public and not from the point of view of the person upon whom the restrictions are imposed. Applying this standard, the Court judged that the criminal defamation laws are proportionate and it rejected the contention that defamation is fundamentally a notion of the majority meant to cripple the freedom of speech and expression.

MyAdvo can connect you with the best criminal defence lawyers in India who have expertise in criminal defamation cases. Email us at or call us at +919811782573.