Report No. 33
46. Position at criminal law.-
We have so far1 dealt with civil liability for defamation. The position is no better at criminal law. The offence of defamation, as defined in section 499, Indian Penal Code, is subject to certain exceptions, and the exception that appears to be the most relevant for the present purpose is the Eighth Exception, which runs as follows2:-
"Eighth Exception: It is not defamation to prefer, in good faith, an accusation against any person to any of those who have lawful authority over that person with respect to the subject-matter of accusation".
The two ingredients are, first, accusation in good faith, and secondly, preferring it to a person having lawful authority.
If the imputation is true and its publication is for the public good, then, of course the First Exception to section 499, Indian Penal Code applies. In some cases, the General Exception as to legality3 may apply-for example, if the offence of bribery has in fact been committed, and its reporting is made obligatory as proposed.
Trouble, however, is likely to arise where a person, believing that an offence has been committed which falls under bribery, gives information to the authorities concerned, and it turns out that the offence had not been committed, because of the non-satisfaction of some of the ingredients of the offence. The belief of the informant in such cases may be honest; but it may not be without sufficient cause. Since the Eighth Exception to section 499 requires, inter alia, "good faith", and since the definition of "good faith" in the Indian Penal Code4, requires due care and attention, it is obvious that there is no protection in the absence of a reasonable ground for the informant's belief. The degree of care requisite will carry with the degree of danger which may result from the want of care. "Where the peril is the greatest, the greatest caution is necessary."5
1. Paras. 23 to 43, supra.
2. Section 499, Eighth Exception, Indian Penal Cede.
3. Section 76, Indian Penal Code.
4. Section 52, Indian Penal Code.
5. Morgan and Macpherson, cited in Ratan Lal Law of Crimes, (1966), p. 88.