No immunity for those who tell on police reports, court warns

PUTRAJAYA: The Federal Court today cautioned that those who disclose their police reports to the public may face the risk of civil action against them in court.

Justice Azahar Mohamed, who read the judgment in a case involving defamation, said people who disclosed the contents of their police reports to the public did not enjoy the right of absolute privilege.

Absolute privilege is an immunity for individuals, especially elected representatives, who make statements within the legislature regardless of whether their statements are malicious or not.

Azahar said the legal position in Malaysia was that a person making a police report was immune from legal action against him or her.

“However, we do not see a reason, on grounds of public policy, that the complainant should be free from accountability by way of defamation when publishing their statement to the public.

“There is no sufficient basis or necessity to expand the ambit of absolute privilege to cover the subsequent publication of the report at large,” the judge said in delivering judgment in the defamation case against local actress Zahida Rafik.

Zahida was sued for defamation by her former driver, Noor Azman Azemi, whom she accused of stealing RM200,000 six years ago. She was initially ordered to pay RM150,000 for slandering him over the stolen money.

She later won a counter-claim against him when the Court of Appeal ordered Azman to pay Zahida RM200,000, the amount she said he had stolen from her. The court also set aside the earlier judgment in favour of Azman.

Azman then appealed the Court of Appeal’s decision, and posed a legal question as to whether disclosing the contents of a police report was protected under the defence of absolute privilege.

The question of law came about when Azman pointed out that Zahida had, after making her police report against him, divulged the contents of her report to the media. Zahida, in the course of the trial, had claimed absolute privilege.

In answering Azman’s question, the Federal Court today said those who repeated the contents of such reports could not enjoy absolute privilege.

The court said this in upholding the lower court’s decision ordering him to return the RM200,000 allegedly stolen from Zahida.

Azahar also said the courts should not unnecessarily extend the perimeters of absolute privilege.

“Otherwise it would result in irresponsible individuals slandering others with impunity,” he said, adding that the country’s laws on libel and slander gave aggrieved parties an avenue to defend their reputation.

Lawyer Latheefa Koya, representing Azman, said the decision today set a strong precedent as police report complainants should avoid repeating the report’s contents.

“A police report is filed because the complainant wants the authorities to investigate their claims.

“When a person comes out of the police station after filing the report and then repeats what he or she said to the police, what would be their intention? They have to justify their remarks,” she said.

Today’s five-member bench was chaired by Court of Appeal president Ahmad Maarop. Others on the bench, apart from Azahar, were Alizatul Khair Osman, Rohana Yusof and Zawawi Salleh.