People can file a legal complaint against someone who harms their reputation and seek damages.
This week The Express Tribune takes a look at the laws that protect your reputation and provide you legal options to demand compensation.
The Defamation Ordinance 2002
Attacks on your reputation can be tried under the Defamation Ordinance 2002. The law primarily deals with defamation defined as: Any act or publication of a false statement made verbally or in written or visual form which injures the reputation of a person, tends to lower him in the estimation of others or tends to reduce him to ridicule, unjust criticism, dislike, contempt or hatred.
Slander and libel
There are two types of defamation: slander and libel. Any false verbal statement is called slander. On the other hand, any written, documentary or visual statement or representation made by ordinary or electronic means is termed libel.
The publication of defamatory matter is an actionable wrong. It requires no proof of physical or financial damage to the person. Defamation itself is considered damage.
Notice of action
Before starting defamation proceedings against someone, the complainant has to give a 14-day notice to the defendant, telling him of his intention to take legal action against him. This must be done within two months of the publication of the defamatory matter.
The district courts have the jurisdiction to try defamation cases under the ordinance. The courts have to decide a case within 90 days. An appeal against the final decision can be filed in the high court within 30 days of the lower court’s verdict. The high court has to decide the appeal within 60 days.
If a court finds a person guilty of having defamed someone, it can order the guilty to tender an apology if it is acceptable to the complainant. This will have to be published in similar manner and with the same prominence as the defamatory statement. The court can also direct the person to pay reasonable compensatory damages (minimum of Rs5,000) in addition to any special damage that it deems fit.
In defamation cases, the following arguments can be used for defence. (1) A person can argue that he was not the author, editor, publisher or printer of the defamatory statement. (2) The matter commented on was fair, in the public interest and an expression of opinion and not an assertion of fact and was published in good faith. (3) The statement was based on truth and was made for the public good. (4) Assent was given for the publication by the complainant. (5) An offer to tender a proper apology and publish the same was made by the defendant that the complainant refused. (6) An offer to print or publish a contradiction or denial in the same manner and with the same prominence was made, but was refused by the complainant. (7) The statement complained of was a privileged communication, for example between a lawyer and his client.
Protection of absolute privilege
Certain statements cannot be tried under the Act because they have absolute privilege. This privilege is defined as any publication of statement made in the federal or provincial assemblies, as well as reports, papers, notes and proceedings ordered to be published by either the Parliament or by the provincial assemblies. Statements relating to judicial proceedings orders, or any report, note or matter written or published by or under the authority of the government have the protection of absolute privilege.
Protection of qualified privilege
The publication of parliamentary proceedings, or judicial proceedings which the public may attend and statements made to the proper authorities in order to procure the redress of public grievances also have the protection of qualified privilege against defamation.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 6th,2014.