Zaid to challenge apex court ruling on govt’s right to sue

PETALING JAYA: Former law minister Zaid Ibrahim said he was planning to challenge yesterday’s Federal Court ruling that the government can sue individuals for defamation.

“I may have the legal standing as the decision affects me as citizen of this country,” he said.

Under Rule 137 of the Federal Court Rules 1995, the apex court could review its own decision to prevent injustice or abuse of process.

Zaid told FMT that he was currently consulting a few lawyers.

“If it is okay, the review will be be filed soon,” he told FMT, adding that the decision yesterday was “a huge mistake”.

“How many governments in the world today sue their citizens for defamation? Reputation is for individuals to worry about and the government only need to concern itself in getting re-elected,” he said.

Zaid said under the administration, judges too must learn to embrace new thinking.

He said allowing the government to take people to court for defamation would effectively silence dissent.

“People will be too scared to comment because of the multi-million ringgit suit that will slapped on them,” he said.

He cited the case of National Felda Settlers’ Children’s Association (Anak) president Mazlan Aliman, who paid RM793,396 in damages to Felda after he was found liable for defamation.

The Federal Land Development Authority (Felda), a government statutory body, had also instituted bankruptcy proceedings against Mazlan.

Last July, Mazlan managed to raise RM793,396 that was paid to the Insolvency Department in Johor Bahru.

Justice Ahmad Maarop, who delivered the unanimous ruling yesterday, said the right of federal and state governments to sue and be sued was provided for under Section 3 of the Government Proceedings Act 1956.

“Thus, the statutory right of the government to sue in civil proceedings under Section 3 of the act, including for defamation, is not subject to the common law of England,” he said.

Ahmad said according to Section 3 of the Interpretation Acts 1948/1967, the phrase “written law” did not include common law.

He said the 1993 English case law of Derbyshire County Council v. Times Newspaper Ltd
was not suitable here as Malaysia had restrictions to freedom of speech.

The celebrated British case said local authorities must be open to criticism as political and administrative bodies, and should not sue for defamation.