If any person injures the reputation of another by intentionally making a false written or spoken communication that lowers the other person’s respect thereby inducing hostile, disparaging feelings against him, is called defamation.

Defamation is a tort involving the publication of false or defamatory statements about some person without giving any lawful explanation or justification.

Under the law of torts, there is no criminal offence therefore it is called civil defamation. Under the law of torts remedy for defamation is given in the form of damages to be paid by the defendant.  Thus, the plaintiff gets monetary compensation for the injury caused to his reputation by the defendant.

Defamation is a general term consisting of both libel and slander.

Libel is a publication of a false defamatory statement made in permanent form like writing, movie, picture to injure the reputation of another person without any lawful justification.

Slander is a publication of a defamatory verbal or oral false statement in transient form like spoken words, gestures to harm other person’s reputation without lawful justification


The following are the essential ingredients that make an act liable for defamation-

1.       Defamatory statement-

A statement is defamatory if it tends to injure the plaintiff in his trade or profession, or if it exposes the plaintiff to hatred, ridicule of the society, or if it causes him to be shunned away, or avoided by society.

If the words used against the plaintiff are defamatory then the intention or motive

of the defendant for using such words becomes immaterial.

Innuendo– At times the defamation is not clearly apparent from a statement. However, any secondary meaning of the statement may be defamatory. Thus, Innuendo means that although the words are not libelous in the ordinary sense but have a libelous meaning in the circumstances of the case. In such a situation, the plaintiff has to prove that the statement made by the defendant has a secondary meaning that is defamatory.           

2.       The statement must refer to the plaintiff-

The defamatory statement made by the defendant must refer to the plaintiff. If the person to whom the statement is published could easily understand that the statement made by the defendant is referring to the plaintiff then the defendant is liable for defamation.

3.       The statement must be published-

A defamatory statement is said to be published when it is communicated to some person other than the one for whom it is used. Thus, for defamation, it is necessary that the communication of the defamatory stamen is made not to the person defamed but to some other person.


The following are the three defences available to the defendant in case of any action against him for defamation-

a.       Justification by truth– The defamatory words used by the defendant if proved by him to be true then acts as a complete defence against any action taken for libel or slander under the law of torts. However, it is not so in a criminal trial. The law of torts does not permit the plaintiff to recover damages for harm to his reputation which he actually does not possess.  If the defamatory statement about the plaintiff is true then the motive for publishing it is irrelevant. It must be noted that the defendant must prove that the imputation made by him about the plaintiff was fully true and not any gross exaggeration. If the defamatory statement made by the defendant is found out to be false or grossly exaggerated then the defendant’s plea for believing it to be true on reasonable grounds would not prevail.

b.      Fair and bonafide comment- Any fair and bonafide comment on the plaintiff by the defendant on the issue of public interest is not liable unless written intemperately or maliciously. The word fair means honest and relevant. For invoking this defence the issue must be in which public interest is related or issues submitted to public criticism.

For a comment to be fair it must be based upon facts and not a misstatement of facts. The comment must be bonafide and not a cloak of malice. Legitimate criticism is not a tort.

c.       Privilege– When the defendant is related to the case in a way that he is justified in saying or writing a statement about the plaintiff that would be considered defamatory in any other case is said to have the privilege. The circumstances of a case are deemed to be privileged when it is right that one should state freely what he honestly believes to be true about the character and conduct of another.

Privilege is of two types-

Absolute privilege– A statement made is absolutely privileged where no action lies for it even if is made with malice and is also defamatory and false.

Examples of such privileged occasions are Parliamentary proceedings, Military and Naval proceedings, State proceedings, and Judicial proceedings.

Qualified privilege– When no action lies for a statement made by the defendant about the plaintiff even though it is false and defamatory unless the plaintiff proves express malice such a statement is said to be a qualified privilege.

Examples of qualified privilege are statements made for protecting common interest, statements made for performing the duty, statements made for self-protection, fair and accurate reports.


From the above discussion, we can conclude that in the law of torts defamation is a civil wrong. In a civil suit filed for defamation, the remedy is given to the plaintiff by way of monetary compensation in the form of damages by the accused. Thus, defamation law under the law of torts protects the reputation of the people from getting injured because of the falsely defamatory statements made by some other person. Defamation law in India under the law of torts protects the right to freedom of speech and expression as it allows people to form their own opinion and make statements but at the same time penalizes them for making any false defamatory statement that harms the reputation of another.

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