PUTRAJAYA: The Federal Court has granted the government and the attorney-general leave to appeal in their application to strike out a rights group’s lawsuits against both the Singapore and Malaysian governments.
A three-member bench chaired by Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Abdul Rahman Sebli said the applicants have fulfilled the legal requirement for the merits of their appeals to be heard.
“We have considered the written and oral submissions (of the parties). In our view, the leave questions posed have passed the threshold under Section 96 of the Courts of Judicature Act,” he said.
Justices Zabariah Yusof and Hasnah Hashim also sat on the panel hearing the application.
In a civil case, the Federal Court will only hear an appeal on its merits if an applicant raises a question of law which the apex court has not previously ruled on or involves an important question for which a decision would be to public advantage.
On July 20 last year, the Court of Appeal allowed Lawyers for Liberty’s (LFL) appeal to reinstate an originating summons it had taken out against Singapore’s home affairs minister K Shanmugam.
This was after the attorney-general had successfully intervened to annul the suit when the matter was originally from the High Court.
On the same day, a three-member Court of Appeal bench chaired by Justice Yaacob Sam also allowed LFL’s appeal to revive another suit filed against the Malaysian government seeking to prevent it from assisting the Singapore government in the matter.
The Court of Appeal ruling meant that the Kuala Lumpur High Court was required to hear both suits on the merits of the case.
Today, the bench allowed seven questions of law, one of which was whether a Malaysian court can exercise jurisdiction to hear a matter in which sovereign immunity over a foreign governmental act is raised.
Senior federal counsel Liew Horng Bin represented the attorney-general and the government while Gurdial Singh Nijar appeared for LFL.
On Jan 24, 2020, LFL had brought its suit to challenge a “correction direction” issued by the Singapore government under Singapore’s controversial legislation, the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma).
The rights group said the direction was issued in respect of matters which LFL had published concerning the treatment of prisoners at Changi Prison who, they alleged, were being executed in a “brutal and unlawful” manner.
A 2020 statement issued by the Singapore government on its official portal claimed that LFL’s allegations contained “false statements of fact”.
Singapore’s home affairs ministry also called the allegation “untrue, baseless and preposterous”, adding that all judicial executions in the country were carried out in strict compliance with the law.
LFL’s suit seeks various reliefs, including a declaration by the court that neither Singapore’s home affairs minister nor anyone acting under his authority can take any action to enforce any provision of Pofma extraterritorially against it within Malaysia.
In its suit against the Malaysian government, LFL sought a declaration that it has the right to express its opinion in Malaysia under Article 10(1)(a) of the Federal Constitution which governs the right to free speech.