Court to hear if political parties can sue individuals for defamation

Then MCA secretary-general Ong Ka Chuan (left) had filed a RM100 million suit against Kepong MP Lim Lip Eng over remarks made against the party at a press conference in 2016.

PUTRAJAYA: The Federal Court is set to decide now whether political parties can file defamation suits against individuals.

This follows the decision of a three-member bench, chaired by Chief Judge of Malaya Azahar Mohamed, to allow a leave to appeal application by Kepong MP and Kuala Lumpur DAP secretary Lim Lip Eng.

Azahar, who sat with Mohd Zawawi Salleh and Abdul Rahman Sebli, said there was merit for the court to hear the appeal based on one legal question framed.

The question of law proposed is whether a political party has the capacity to maintain a defamation action in light of the decision of Goldsmith v Bhoyrul.

In July 2017, the then MCA secretary-general Ong Ka Chuan filed the suit against Lim over remarks made at a press conference held at the Parliament building on March 15, 2016.

Ong said Lim’s remarks had seriously injured MCA’s reputation, adding that the Chinese-based party was seeking RM100 million in general and exemplary damages.

Lim had referred to information from his sources alleging that MCA had never used its own funds to give allocations to Chinese schools, and that MCA had instead allegedly pocketed public funds.

On Feb 27, 2018, the High Court refused Lim’s application to strike out the defamation suit by MCA.

Lim’s appeal to the Court of Appeal last year was also dismissed on grounds that there were issues to be tried before the High Court.

Today, Lim’s lawyer Gopal Sri Ram submitted that a registered society, that included political parties under the Societies Act, could not file defamation suits because they have no reputation, unlike an individual.

“They can only sue and be sued for other civil actions,” he said, adding that the position of political parties was similar to that of a government under the Government Proceedings Act.

“Leave should be granted as the courts here have not made a ruling on defamation suits filed by political parties,” he said.

Lawyer Ang Boon Heng, who appeared for Ong, said the law was settled following a Federal Court ruling two years ago that governments could sue citizens for defamation.

He said the five-member panel had also refused to accept the common law Derbyshire principle that public authorities cannot bring an action against a person for lowering their reputation.

That controversial ruling came about when the Sarawak government filed a defamation suit against state opposition leader Chong Chieng Jenn in 2013 after he alleged that RM11 billion had “disappeared into a black hole”.

His statement was published in a Chinese national daily and a news portal, as well as in pamphlets distributed by Chong and DAP.