Section 499, Indian Penal Code I

­Can a truly blasphemous libel escape criminal action? Former Hon’ble Chief Justice of India A.S. Anand was attacked once as regards his true age. Mr. Ram Jethmalani had no little role to play in that debate. Shall the SC feel safe for itself, even if it does for all else? This one shall stand Referred to a Larger Bench, sooner than later.

Notable Judgments on Section 499 of The Indian Penal Code, 1860:

Five Judges

AIR 1952 SC 149 [Mukherjea J.]

The fact that defamation of a Judge of a Subordinate Court constitutes an offence under Section 499 does not oust the jurisdiction of the concerned High Court to take cognizance of the act as a Contempt of Court.

AIR 1961 SC 613 [Sinha C.J.]

Section 499 contains a number of exceptions. Those specified exceptions lay down what is not defamation. The Fourth Exception says that it is not defamation to publish a substantially true report of the proceedings of a Court of Justice, but does not make any such concession in respect of proceedings of a House of Legislature or Parliament. The question naturally arises how far the rule in Wason’s case (1868) L.R. 4 Q.B. 73, can be applied to criminal prosecutions in India, but as this aspect of the controversy was not canvassed at the Bar, we need not say anything about it, as it is not necessary for the decision of this case.

Three Judges

AIR 1966 SC 97 [Gajendragadkar J.]

The proof of truth which is one of the ingredients of the First Exception is not an ingredient of the Ninth Exception. What the Ninth Exception requires an accused person to prove is that he made the statement in good faith. We are governed by the definition prescribed by Section 52. The accused must show that the belief in his impugned statement had a rational basis and was not just a blind simple belief. That is where the element of due care and attention plays an important role. In deciding whether an accused person acted in good faith under the Ninth Exception, it is not possible to lay down any rigid rule or test. It would be a question to be considered on the facts and circumstances of each case. Where an accused person is called upon to prove that his case falls under an Exception, law treats the onus as discharged if the accused person succeeds in proving a preponderance of probability. As soon as the preponderance of probability is proved, the burden shifts to the prosecution, which has still to discharge its original onus.

AIR 1981 SC 1514 [Chinnappa Reddy J.]

Public good like good faith is a matter for evidence and not conjecture.

Two Judges

AIR 1965 SC 1451 [Dayal J.]

When, Explanation (2) to Section 499, talks of a collection of persons as capable of being defamed, such collection of persons must mean a definite and a determinate body. The prosecuting staff of Aligarh and even the prosecuting staff in the State of U.P. forms an identifiable group or collection of persons within the meaning of Section 499, Explanation (2).

AIR 1970 SC 1372 [Ray J.]

In order to come within the First Exception to Section 499 it has to be established that what has been imputed is true and the publication of the imputation is for the public good.

The Ninth Exception states that if the imputation is made in good faith for the protection of the person making it or for another person or for the public good it is not defamation. Good faith requires care and caution and prudence in the background of context and circumstances. The position of the person making the imputation will regulate the standard of care and caution. Under the Eighth Exception the statement made by a person to another who has authority to deal with the subject matter of the complaint whereas the Ninth Exception deals with the statement for the protection of the interest of the person making it. Interest of the person has to be real and legitimate when communication is made in protection of the interest of the person making it.

AIR 1971 SC 1567 [Ray J.]

In the Ninth Exception the person making the imputation has to substantiate that his enquiry was attended with due care and attention and he was thus satisfied that the imputation was true. The accent is on the enquiry, care and objective and not subjective satisfaction.

(2009) 1 SCC 101 [Sinha J.]

It is now a well-settled principle of law that those who plead exception must prove it.

(2010) 6 SCC 243 [Jain J.]

It is plain that in order to bring a case within the scope of the Tenth Exception, it must be proved that statement/publication was intended in good faith to convey a caution to one person against another; that such caution was intended for the good of the person to whom it was conveyed, or of such person in whom that person was interested, or for the public good.