reserved in Tang's appeals
Straits Times: September 25, 1997.
THE three-judge Court of Appeal yesterday reserved judgment in the 14 appeals by Workers' Party candidate Tang Liang Hong after a 2-1/2-day hearing.
Its verdict on whether to uphold the High Court ruling that Mr Tang was guilty of defamation and should pay $8.075 million in damages will be made later.
Closing his case yesterday, Queen's Counsel Charles Gray, representing Mr Tang, said the lawyers for the 11 People's Action Party leaders had failed to "grasp the nettle" of his case.
The damages Mr Tang has to pay were "exorbitant, disproportionate, unjust, grotesque" and "wholly unrealistic", the QC said, giving a breakdown of the amounts awarded in each of the 13 suits. He acknowledged that, in Singapore, previous cases were often used as a yardstick to decide the quantum of damages for defamation.
But he urged the court to note the recent "sea change" in how defamation awards were viewed abroad, to bring them more in line with what plaintiffs got in cases of crippling physical injury.
He also asked Justices M. Karthigesu, L. P. Thean and G. P. Selvam to take into account duplication in the suits against Mr Tang, the prevailing cost of living, the level of earnings of an average person, and the "chilling effect" of huge awards to politicians in inhibiting freedom of expression here.
Mr Gray also argued that:
It did not matter that there was no allegation of actual impropriety over the apartment purchases by Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew and Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, as even Finance Minister Richard Hu had told Parliament that there was a public perception of impropriety. There was no need for separate notices of appeal, since Justice Goh Joon Seng's decision to strike out Mr Tang's appeal on the grounds that he had failed to comply with court rulings would "disappear" if it was found that Justice Lai Kew Chai, who made the earlier ruling, should instead have disqualified himself from the case for apparent bias.
The PAP lawyers gave no explanation why they resisted putting the 13 suits together in this "classic case for consolidation" which would have saved court time and costs.
Mr Gray insisted that he stood uncontradicted that there was no precedent for a worldwide Mareva injunction before judgment in a defamation case, despite PAP lawyers citing an example of a previous case in which a Mareva was granted.
It was wrong of Justice Chao Hick Tin to award extra damages against Mr Tang for attacking the judiciary, as damages in defamation cases were meant to compensate and not punish.
It was "legal nonsense" to imply that Mr Gray had further aggravated the damages by his conduct in this appeal, since damages can be aggravated before and up to a trial, but not afterwards.
Justice Chao was "sadly left in the dark" that SM Lee and Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong had obtained and released Mr Tang's two police reports, since the PAP lawyers gave no good reason why this fact was concealed until last month.
SC Wong Meng Meng's proposition, that it was immaterial that the SM and PM released the reports since Mr Tang must have known the reports would be publicised eventually, was "remarkable and wrong-headed", since one cannot be held liable for what a third party does.
Mr Tang had good reason not to return here to confront the case against him, as he was harassed, placed in the "straitjacket" of the $11.2 million Mareva injunction, and deprived of legal representation until April.
There was no convincing evidence of Mr Tang's Chinese chauvinism, and "not a shred" to show he was anti-Malay or anti-Islam, he said, brushing aside the evidence cited by PAP lawyers as "nothing more than a bunch of beans".
To think Mr Tang's speech at a 1994 dinner about religious harmony could lead to the sort of ethnic division seen in Rwanda or Bosnia was "really the height of absurdity", the QC said, urging the court to reject the ruling that Mr Tang had defamed the PAP leaders and to reduce the damages awarded.
Published in the Straits Times. September 25, 1997