PUTRAJAYA: Lawyer and former Malaysian Bar president Manjeet Singh Dhillon has to wait a bit longer to find out if he is entitled to RM200,000 in damages from Utusan Melayu (M) Berhad for defaming him.
This follows the Federal Court’s decision today to let the publisher apply to set aside the Court of Appeal ruling made in March.
A three-member bench chaired by Chief Justice Richard Malanjum allowed Utusan to argue two questions of law when its appeal is heard on a date to be fixed later.
Lawyer Americk Sidhu, who represented Manjeet, objected to the leave as the questions of law posed had already been decided by another Federal Court panel.
“The facts and evidence of the case did not warrant leave to be granted,” he said.
Utusan’s counsel Muhammad Shafee Abdullah replied that the legal questions were novel and of public advantage as the previous Federal Court ruling was only an obiter (said in passing).
On March 13, the Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the High Court which had found the publisher liable for defaming Manjeet.
It also maintained the amount of damages awarded by the High Court.
Manjeet had filed a RM2.5 million suit on Sept 26, 2011 in which he named former Padang Serai MP N Gobalakrishnan, ex-Utusan Malaysia journalist Raja Syahrir Abu Bakar, Utusan Melayu and TV3 as the defendants.
On Sept 11, 2015, High Court judge Nor Bee Ariffin ordered Gobalakrishnan to pay Manjeet RM150,000 in damages while Utusan Melayu and Raja Syahrir would have to pay RM200,000.
However, she rejected Manjeet’s suit against TV3 and ordered him to pay RM50,000 in costs after finding no evidence that he had been defamed by the television station.
The Court of Appeal dismissed Gobalakrishnan’s appeal but allowed Manjeet’s appeal against TV3.
The Umno-linked broadcaster was ordered to pay RM200,000 in damages.
Unlike Utusan, Gobalakrishnan and TV3 did not appeal to the Federal Court.
In her judgment, Nor Bee said there was no doubt Gobalakrishnan had uttered the defamatory words during an interview by the media.
Based on that interview, Utusan published an article on Aug 17, 2011 with the title “Manjeet selalu burukkan kerajaan” (Manjeet always disparages the government).
The judge said the article could tarnish Manjeet Singh’s reputation as he was then representing lawyer N Pathmanaban, an accused in the murder of cosmetics millionaire Sosilawati Lawiya.
She said the defence of justification, fair comment and qualified privilege advanced by Gobalakrishnan, Raja Syahrir and Utusan Melayu were not helpful to them.