PETALING JAYA: Political parties intending to sue individuals for defamation face an uphill battle following a Federal Court ruling delivered early this year, a lawyer said.
Guok Ngek Seong said a seven-member bench held that political parties cannot sue individuals for libel or slander as they do not have a “reputation” which needed protection.
In her judgment, Justice Zaleha Yusof said a political party was reliant on the public to garner enough votes to get into power. Therefore, it would not be right, nor in the public interest, to put members of the public in fear of a defamation suit and prevent them from expressing their views.
“Allowing this to happen definitely goes against the true value of democracy,” she had said, adding that political parties should not “be thin-skinned” but must always be open to public criticism.
In July 2017, then MCA secretary-general Ong Ka Chuan, acting in his capacity as the party’s public officer, filed a defamation suit against DAP leader and Kepong MP Lim Lip Eng.
This was over remarks made at a press conference held in the Parliament building in 2016 during which Lim alleged that MCA had used government funds allocated for Chinese vernacular schools.
Writing a separate judgment in the case, Justice Harmindar Singh Dhaliwal said political parties should not bring defamation suits as they had all the resources available to counter unflattering comments made against them.
The Federal Court went on to allow Lim’s appeal to strike out the suit by MCA, following the landmark decisions of Goldsmith v Bhoyrul (UK) and Rajagopal v Jayalalitha (India).
Guok was responding to PAS secretary-general Takiyuddin Hassan, who had called on Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim to furnish evidence to justify his comments implying that gaming companies had partially funded Perikatan Nasional’s (PN) election campaign.
Takiyuddin said PN will consider taking legal action if Anwar failed to show any proof to back his “wild accusation”.
PAS is a component party in the PN coalition.
Referring to the MCA case, Guok pointed out that the decision that a political party cannot bring an action in defamation was the judgment of the highest court in the land.
“A political party may file a defamation suit, but the lower courts are bound by that ruling. Only another Federal Court bench can depart from its earlier ruling,” he said.