error' in Tang defamation case
August 23, 1997
A "FUNDAMENTAL error" had been made in the Tang Liang Hong defamation case earlier this year QC George Carmen told the Singapore High Court, Aug 21. Mr Carmen said this during his submission in the defamation suit by prime minister Goh Chok Tong against Workers' Party leader J. B. Jeyeratnam.
The judge in the Tang case, Justice Chao Hick Tin, had laboured under the impression that it was Mr Jeyaretnam who released the police reports to the press, Mr Carman said.
However, while under oath, on the second day of the trial, Mr Goh told the High Court that it was he who authorised senior minister Lee Kuan Yew to release Mr Tang's police reports.
Mr Carman said the prime minister and Mr Lee, his predecessor, "shot themselves in the foot" by releasing the report over which they are now seeking legal damages.
Mr Carman also accused Mr Goh and his predecessor for ''orchestrating a damage claim when there really hasn't been any damage by (Mr Jeyeratnam). The real loss has been self-inflicted and engineered. This really is standing justice on its head.'' In his written judgment, May 29, Justice Chao said: "The police report was released to the media through the Secretary-General of the WP at a rally that evening..."
Mr Carman said: "That is totally and completely untrue." He demanded that the lawyers for the PAP men explain to the court how the judge had been so "seriously misled".
He added that nowhere in any of their court documents did the plaintiffs mention that it was Mr Goh and Mr Lee who released the police reports, as the Prime Minister had testified on Tuesday. Instead, the documents were drafted carefully to suggest that it was the press which procured the release of the reports.
From the witness box, Mr Goh said that he first read about Mr Tang's plan to file a police report from an interview in The Straits Times. In it, Mr Tang had said that not only was he going to sue Mr Goh and the PAP men, but he would also file police reports against them for defaming him by calling him an anti-Christian Chinese chauvinist.
Mr Goh went on to describe how he had asked Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng to inform him if Mr Tang did file a police report, as he said he would.
On the evening of Jan 1, while attending a PAP rally in Potong Pasir, the report was presented to him about two hours after Mr Tang filed it. A copy was also sent to Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who was attending another PAP rally in Hougang.
At about 9.15 pm, Mr Goh proceeded to the Hougang rally, where he met Mr Lee and exchanged a few words with him about the reports.
"We had to decide what to do with it," he said, noting that at that point of time, Mr Tang had not made public his police reports.
Mr Goh said he saw no need to go public with the reports to benefit Mr Tang's chances at the polls since the WP man would have been seen to have kept his word.
But, he added, after WP chief J. B. Jeyaretnam had made known Mr Tang's lodging of the reports at its party's final election rally that night, he had no choice but to bring the reports out into the open, especially when newspaper journalists began asking for copies of the reports. "If I had not, I would have come across as trying to hide something."
The decision, he said, was made the next day, which was Polling Day. Mr Lee had contacted him to discuss the reports. They spoke for five to 10 minutes, and he authorised Mr Lee to release the reports.
To that, Mr Carman asked: "Did Mr Lee ask 'may I release it? Or 'shall I release it?"' Mr Goh: "No, he said 'should we release it?' I said yes."