1. The libel complained of in the plaint is that the defendant in his capacity of Chief Constable of Pandharpur sent in December, 1900, a false and malicious report to the District Superintendent of Police, Sholapur, recommending that the license held by the plaintiff for a gun under the Arms Act should be cancelled because he 'was an associate of thieves and dacoits.' The report sent in by the defendant does not contain these words; but the language used in it is plainly defamatory of the plaintiff, though it may not suggest that he is an associate of dacoits. Moreover, the defendant in his deposition admits that he did give information to the District Superintendent that the plaintiff was 'harbouring offenders' and that his report was based on his 'fear that he' (the plaintiff) 'associated with bad characters.'
2. We cannot agree, therefore, in the District Judge's finding upon the evidence that the defendant did not report that the plaintiff was and accomplice of thieves and dacoits. But the material question in the case is whether the defendant's communication is not protected by privilege. As a Police officer it was his duty to make reports about persons asking for and holding licenses for arms and the communication was made by him in the discharge of a public duty which he owed to his superior officer. The mere fact that the defendant made the communication for the purpose of getting the plaintiff's license cancelled, though his superior officer had never asked his opinion about the cancellation, is not sufficient to destroy the privilege, because as pointed out by Baron Parke in Toogood Spyring (1834) 1 C.M. & R. 181 'such communications are protected for the common convenience and welfare of society; and the law has not restricted the right to make them within any narrow limits.' But it was said that there was no truth whatever in the report sent and information given to the District Superintendent of Police and that there was no reasonable ground for the imputations on the plaintiff's character. The law as to such privileged communications is tersely summed up by the editors of Smith's Leading Cases in their notes to the leading case of Ashby v. White (page 263, 10th Edition) as follows: 'In such cases, generally speaking, however harsh, hasty, or untrue may be the language employed, so long as it is honestly believed by the speaker or writer to be true, it does not furnish a legal ground of action: see Todd v. Hawkins (1837) 8 C. & P. 88 per Willes, J.; and the definition of privileged communications in Harrison v. Bush (1855) 5 E. & B. 344; and provided he believed them to be true, it does not matter that he had no reasonable grounds for his belief: Clark v. Molyneux (1877) 3 Q.B.D. 237. Nor, it seems, is it essential, if the occasion be privileged, that the writer or speaker believe the statement to be true, provided he make it without malice, in fact, for, it may be his duty to communicate statements which he himself does not believe; ib. per Bramwell, L.J.; see Jenoure v. Delmege (1894) A.C. 73' In Clark v. Molyneux, Bramwell, L.J., says: 'A person may honestly make on a particular occasion a defamatory statement without believing it to be true; because the statement may be of such a character as on that occasion it may be proper to communicate it to a particular person who ought to be informed of it If the defendant was actuated by some motive other than that which would alone excuse him, the jury may find for the plaintiff.' In the present case it is alleged that the defendant was actuated by a malicious motive, and if there is satisfactory evidence leading to the conclusion that the defendant was actuated by malice in fact in making the communication to his superiors, the privilege would be destroyed. The evidence from which we are asked to infer malice is contained in the depositions of the plaintiff and the defendant. The plaintiff states that there have been two factions in the village, to one of which he belongs and the other is headed by the Police Patel, a bhauband of his. The defendant admits this. According to the plaintiff he had sent petitions to the District Superintendent of Police and the District Magistrate against the Police in 1899 and the defendant suspected him of haying sent an anonymous petition against him charging him with bribery. The defendant denies this. He states that the plaintiff 'has an objection to the Police who are at Mandrup and visit there'; that in 1900 the plaintiff's house was search by the Thanadar Gul Mahomed in connection with a robbery committed at Chadchan and that he always intrigued against the Police. All this evidence proves that the plaintiff was making complaints against the police officers and the police officers were reporting against him suspecting that he was intriguing against them and assisting bad characters. These complaints and counter-complaints did no doubt produce hostility between the plaintiff and the Police, but it was hostility brought about by the opinion already formed by the police officers against the plaintiff's character. There is nothing to show that that opinion) though erroneous, was not honestly formed; and the communication of that opinion by the defendant to his superiors cannot be held to have been actuated by any malicious 'motive when the evidence before us is equally consistent with the view that, honestly believing the plaintiff to be an intriguer, and having regard to the search of his house in connection with the Chadchan robbery, the defendant thought that it was his duty to inform the District Superintendent of Police of the opinion he had formed as to his character. 'Communications of this kind,' to borrow the language of Alderson B. in Todd v. Hawkins (1837) 8 C. & P. 88 'should be viewed liberally' and unless it is proved clearly that they were made with the malicious intention of defaming the plaintiff, the verdict must be for the defendant. What is relied upon as evidence of malicious intention is evidence of occurrences and the mutual relations of the parties which led the defendant to entertain a bad opinion about the plaintiff and to report it to his superior officers in the discharge of his duty. The evidence of malice in fact is not, in our opinion, so dear and unequivocal as to destroy the privilege. We must confirm the decree with costs.