Terengganu sultanah not required to be in witness box, court rules

Terengganu’s Sultanah Nur Zahirah had sued Sarawak Report editor Clare Rewcastle Brown and two others over alleged disparaging remarks in her book. (Bernama pic)

KUALA LUMPUR: The High Court has exempted Terengganu Sultanah Nur Zahirah from giving evidence to prove her defamation suit against Sarawak Report editor Clare Rewcastle Brown and two others.

Judge Ahmad Zaidi Ibrahim said that on the face of the suit, the defendants had defamed the plaintiff.

“In the minds of the reasonable person, the impugned passage in a book has cast aspersions on the plaintiff. So defamation has been proved,” he said, referring to the publication The Sarawak Report – The Inside Story of the 1MDB Expose.

Zaidi said he concurred with counsel for the plaintiff, Mohd Haaziq Pillai, that the defendants need not bring a language expert to prove the passage in the book was not defamatory.

“It is plain and obvious that the reference as ‘her” in the contentious passage must be the plaintiff and not the Sultan,” he said.

Zaidi said the “ball has now been shifted to the defendants” and they could take the stand to rely on the defence available in defamation cases or take a position of no case to answer.

Rewcastle Brown and the two others have cited the defence of justification, fair comment and qualified privilege.

The judge has fixed case management on Jan 20.

Sultanah Nur Zahirah filed the application for her suit to be decided by summary judgment on May 27 under Order 14A of the Rules of Court 2012.

She had sued Rewcastle Brown, or Clare Louis Brown, Gerakbudaya Enterprise publisher Chong Ton Sin and printer Vinlin Press Sdn Bhd as the first, second and third defendants, respectively, on Nov 21 last year.

She alleged that Rewcastle Brown made a disparaging statement about her in her book, and claimed that it could be taken to mean she was involved in corrupt practices and interfered in Terengganu’s administration besides using her status to influence the establishment of Terengganu Investment Authority (TIA), which later became 1MDB.

She alleged the statement also construed her as having helped Low Taek Jho, also known as Jho Low, to become the adviser of TIA.

Sultanah Nur Zahirah contended that she had never involved herself in the administration of Terengganu state and establishment of TIA and, therefore, the statement had slandered and tarnished her reputation.

She is claiming general damages of RM100 million from each defendant and is seeking an order for the publisher to withdraw the book containing the defamatory statement and for the third defendant to stop further printing of the book.

Lawyer Kalis Isma Alif, who appeared for the defendants, told reporters he would take instruction from his clients on whether to file an appeal.