Government’s right to sue: Just don’t, lawyers group tells PH

The Pakatan Harapan government has been urged not to take action against its critics despite the recent Federal Court ruling enabling it to do so.

PETALING JAYA: Rights group Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) has hit out at the recent Federal Court ruling that the government can sue individuals for defamation, calling it unconstitutional and warning that it infringes on the rights of citizens.

LFL adviser N Surendran told FMT he was shocked at the judgment, more so as Ahmad Maarop, who delivered the unanimous decision, had cited Section 3 of the Government Proceedings Act (GPA) 1956 in ruling that the government had the right to sue.

N Surendran.

Calling the GPA a pre-Merdeka act, he said it went against the Federal Constitution which implied in Articles 5 and 8 that the public had the right to criticise the government.

“It’s astonishing that in this day and age, the court can make a decision that goes against principles which operate in a democracy like ours,” he said.

“The government has no right to sue its citizens because when it does, it is using taxpayers’ money to sue taxpayers.”

Given that the court had made the decision, however, Surendran said the simple solution to the problem was for the government not to sue any citizen for criticising it.

“Even though the Federal Court allows it, the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government must take a clear stance that it and the state governments under PH won’t take any action against those who criticise them.

“Otherwise, it will have a chilling effect on democracy.”

Another rights lawyer, Syahredzan Johan, said under the Derbyshire principle, governments and their agencies had no right to sue individuals for defamation.

Syahredzan Johan

Syahredzan, who is Lim Kit Siang’s political secretary, said this was because governments should not hinder criticism against them.

“If individuals face legal action, it is likely that they won’t criticise the government. This will stunt democracy.

“Any government must be prepared to face criticism from the people,” he said in a statement.

Earlier today, Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Mohamed Hanipa Maidin also called for a review of the GPA.

Hanipa, who is the deputy minister in charge of law, said the judgment left much to be desired.