libel award 'a grotesque injustice'
South China Morning Post. Sept 25, 1997
SINGAPORE: The record libel payout ordered against opposition politician Tang Liang Hong should be thrown out because it was grotesque, fundamentally flawed and contrary to natural justice, a top British lawyer said yesterday.
Summing up his appeal against damages of S$8.08 million (HK$40.86 million) awarded to Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and 10 of his colleagues, Charles Gray said the actions against Mr Tang were "thoroughly political in their complexion".
He told the Singapore Court of Appeal the awards against Mr Tang, an unsuccessful candidate for the left-leaning Workers' Party at elections on January 2, were wrong in law because a judge who made critical decisions leading up to the trial should have stood aside.
There could have been a perception of bias because Mr Justice Lai Kew Chai had called Mr Tang a "liar" and a "coward" in the hearings and had been a partner in a firm founded by Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who was among those suing Mr Tang, he said.
This was not a "technical" objection, Mr Gray said, arguing the involvement of the judge was "a breach of natural justice".
"There is no such thing as a technical breach of natural justice," he said. "If there was a breach of natural justice then there was a fundamental flaw in the judgment."
Rejecting Mr Gray's arguments against the judge, lawyer Tan Kok Kuan said on Tuesday the judge had not had a close relationship with Mr Lee. Mr Tang "was motivated by malice" and deserved to pay the awards.
Most of the suits stem from the election campaign when Mr Goh and other members of the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) accused Mr Tang of being an "anti-Christian Chinese chauvinist".
Mr Tang filed police reports saying the PAP leaders were lying, and they sued.
The PAP won 81 of Parliament's 83 seats. Mr Tang fled Singapore after the election, saying his life had been threatened. He has not returned.
The PAP leaders claim to have sued to defend the integrity critical to their ability to rule.
However, Mr Gray said there was no basis for the case against Mr Tang.
"The awards of damages made against my client, Mr Tang, are . . . exorbitant, disproportionate, unjust and grotesque," he said.
Arguing for the People's Action Party leaders on Tuesday, senior lawyer and PAP MP Davinder Singh said that the awards should stand because Mr Tang had deliberately attacked the leadership during the elections for political purposes.
Published in the South China Morning Post. Sept 25, 1997