Defences To Defamation

Reputation is viewed as a person's private property. It is more valuable than any other type of asset. A person's reputation is effectively hurt when they are defamed. Similar to interfering with property, someone who damages another's reputation does so at their own peril. Defamation is described as "the offence of hurting a person's character, fame, or repute by false and malicious utterances" in Black's Law Dictionary.

A defamatory statement is a false statement of fact that harms a person's reputation, according to legal definitions. It implies you might have a defamation case if someone makes a false remark about you and it causes you harm.

What is the Meaning of Defamation?

The term "defamation" refers to any deliberate false statement, whether written or spoken, that damages a person's reputation, undermines the esteem, respect, or trust that is held for them, or arouses hostile or objectionable feelings or feelings towards them.

Defamation is harm to a person's reputation. It is wrong to harm another person's reputation through written or spoken words, signs, or other overt manifestations.

Essentials of Defamation

Not all remarks made against someone fall within the category of defamation. Three requirements must be met for a statement to be deemed defamatory. They include −

The Statement Must Be Defamatory

When a comment damages someone's reputation, it is considered defamatory. Either it should diminish the respect and give rise to a negative perception of the individual, subjecting him to dishonour, humiliation, or contempt, or it should arouse animosity, causing the person to be shunned and avoided by society. If a statement is inherently defamatory, it cannot be claimed that it wasn't meant to be that way.

The Statement Must Refer to The Plaintiff

Only if the reader of the statement can fairly conclude that it relates to the plaintiff can the defendant be held accountable. The fact that the defendant had no intention of slandering the plaintiff is irrelevant.

The Statement Must Be Published

For a statement to be considered defamatory, it must be shared with someone other than the person being slandered. The reason for this is that, in order to constitute defamation, the person's reputation must be damaged. A publication can even be as simple as dictating a letter to a typist. Nonetheless, it cannot be considered publishing if someone other than the person who was defamed reads a letter addressed to them or overhears a conversation between them.

Yet, it may be considered publishing if the defamatory letter is one that someone else is likely to read and understand. If a letter is read and understood by a clerk or spouse, or if a telegram is read by post officials, for instance, it counts as a publication. The transmission of a defamatory message from one spouse to the other is sufficient to constitute publication, but the publication of a defamatory message from one spouse to the other is not considered.

Kinds of Defamation

Following are the major types of defamation −


Defamation that has been published or created in a similar manner permanently is referred to as such. In this way, it is extremely likely that it can be considered to last as long as the sculpture or image does. A statement must be proven to be false, defamatory, divulged, or physically documented in order to be regarded as a criticism.

The statement that was defamatory should have directly or indirectly mentioned the party that was upset. Also, this comment must make a logical connection between the individual and the remark. Even though neither the respondent's objective nor the need to clearly designate a person is basic, it is anything but. Yet, one cannot criticise a group or a dead person, such as specialists.


It alludes to defamation that is temporary in nature, like oral criticism, which is a sort of defamation. In light of this, it is presumed that the effect of criticism will endure for the duration of the statement or activity.

Defamation must be proven to have caused exceptional harm because slander is a common offence. Slander can also happen in ways that specifically target defamation.

For instance, when you make offensive comments to your representative, who then types them without using letterhead, the correspondence that results in the third person in the conversation is not formal.

Defences of Defamation

Following are the major defences of defamation −


The most significant defence or excuse against defamation is the truth. This is so because only untrue statements made about someone qualify as defamation. So, the maker of the assertions can absolve himself of responsibility if he can show that they are truthful. However, this defence might not be applicable in criminal defamation actions.

The onus of establishing the veracity of a statement is always on the defendant. Also, he must demonstrate his honesty in substance rather than in summary. He cannot use the justification that he believes the statement to be true in his own mind if it is untrue.

Fair and bona fide comment

Making an honest and legitimate comment is a valid defence for the defendant in a defamation case. Hence, offering constructive criticism without ill will is not the same as slander. Defamation may not occur, for instance, when a government cabinet minister is criticised for poor leadership.

In this situation, the defendant must demonstrate that he had good intentions and was not intentionally malicious. He must also defend his remarks by demonstrating that he meant them with good or sincere intentions.


In some circumstances, the law may award special privileges to specific individuals. Any remarks made by a person who has access to these privileges are not defamatory. The benefit of having the freedom to speak freely in conversation takes precedence over people's right to reputation. This privilege could be absolute or qualified.

  • Absolute Privilege − It grants the person an absolute right to express themselves, regardless of whether they are making defamatory statements. This protects them from liability in the event of a slander claim. It covers state correspondence, judicial continuing, and parliamentary privilege.

  • Qualified Privilege − A topic that is of public interest or of such importance that communicating it freely is essential may be covered by a qualified privilege. The likelihood of the pronouncement being malicious-free must be greater than zero. The defendant must adequately prove that the claim was made during a protected event.


A healthy balance between one person's right to free speech and another's right to reputation protection. A person's reputation being harmed results in the tort of defamation. The right to freedom of speech and expression is violated by the law, which is intended to safeguard a person's reputation but is actually more often used to stifle free speech.

According to the court, fundamental rights are not inviolable at all costs, and the right to reputation is a subset of the right to life, which is guaranteed by Article 21 of the constitution.

Frequently Asked Question

Q1. Which is not a defence in defamation?

Ans. A factual assertion is not regarded as defamation. Furthermore, expressions of opinion are not regarded as untrue due to their inherent subjectivity to the speaker. The statement is not confidential. There are numerous circumstances in which a statement might be shielded by privilege.

Q2. Is truth a defence to civil defamation in India?

Ans. Although the first exemption to Section 499 I. P. C. mandates that the imputation must also be proven to have been made for the public good in addition to being true, truth is inherently the defence in both civil and criminal defamation.

Q3. What are general defences in tort?

Ans. A collection of "excuses" you can use as general defences to evade accountability. If the plaintiff brought a case against the defendant for a specific tort and all of the necessary parts of that tort were present, the defendant would be liable for the same.

Q4. What is the defence of qualified privilege?

Ans. If the person communicating the statement has a moral, ethical, or social obligation to make it and the recipient has a corresponding interest in hearing it, then the common law defence of qualified privilege permits free communication in those relationships without running the risk of being sued for defamation.

Updated on: 13-Apr-2023


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