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Libel and Slander in Tort Law

Libel and Slander in Tort Law
Libel and Slander in Tort Law


English law historically distinguishes between libel and slander, categorising defamation actions based on the form of publication.

Slander: Transient Defamation

Slander involves the transient publication of defamatory statements, typically conveyed through spoken words or gestures.


Libel: Permanent Representation

Conversely, libel entails defamatory representations in a lasting form, such as writing, printing, images, or statutes. Even synchronised speech in mediums like cinema films can constitute libel, as observed in Youssoupoff v. M.G.M. Pictures Ltd.

Under English law, the distinction holds significance for several reasons:

  1. Criminal Offence: While libel is recognized as a criminal offence, slander is not.

  2. Actionability: Libel is actionable per se, meaning no proof of damage is required for legal action. In contrast, slander typically necessitates proof of special damage, except in exceptional cases outlined by statute.

Exceptional Cases of Slander

These include:

  • Imputation of criminal offences

  • Imputation of contagious diseases

  • Imputation of professional incompetence or dishonesty

  • Imputation of unchastity or adultery (as per the Slander of Women Act, 1891)

Indian Legal Perspective

Unlike English law, Indian law treats both libel and slander as criminal offences under Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). However, there has been debate regarding the necessity of proving special damage in cases of slander.

In Parvathi v. Mannar and subsequent cases, Indian courts have questioned the requirement of special damage for slander, opting for a broader interpretation akin to libel. This approach prioritises protecting reputation without mandating proof of pecuniary harm.

In D.P. Choudhary v. Manjulata, a defamatory news item adversely impacted the reputation and marriage prospects of the plaintiff. The court held that all defamatory words are actionable per se, entitling the plaintiff to general damages, exemplifying the legal principles regarding defamation in India.


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