Straits Times: Wednesday Oct 22, 1997.
THE International Commission of Jurists yesterday defended Mr Stuart Littlemore's report on the defamation suit against Mr J.B. Jeyaretnam, saying that most of the statements attributed to its observer by the Law Ministry in its response were false and misleading.
ICJ secretary-general Adama Dieng said the report on the prime minister's defamation suit against the Workers' Party chief was an objective record of what Mr Littlemore, an Australian Queen's Counsel, had observed.
In separate letters to the PM's press secretary, Mr Lim Siam Kim, and the ministry's deputy secretary, Mr Lau Wah Ming, Mr Dieng described the case as another example of government members using defamation proceedings against people in the opposition.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, he noted, gave everyone the right to express their opinions and to seek, receive and impart information through any media, regardless of frontiers.
It also gave everyone the right to take part in the government of his country directly, or through freely-elected representatives.
"It is in the context of these two articles that the ICJ believes that the availability of defamation proceedings relating to statements made non-maliciously, in circumstances such as these, may amount to an abuse of the rule of law," he said.
The prime minister, who called Mr Tang Liang Hong an anti-Christian Chinese chauvinist, sued Mr Jeyaretnam for telling a WP election rally on Jan 1 that Mr Tang had placed before him two police reports the latter made against the prime minister and his people.
In his reply yesterday, Mr Dieng also responded to points made in the ministry's press statement on Oct. 12:
Singapore's leaders use of libel actions:
Mr Littlemore did not say in his report that "the Singapore leadership uses libel to stifle free speech and political debate and to remove political opponents" and that the courts had aided PAP leaders in doing so by awarding large damages to PAP plaintiffs.
What the QC had said was that the Singapore leadership had a long-standing reputation for using defamation actions to remove opposition members from parliament.
This statement was supported by court records incorporated in the QC's report which were supplied by the Registrar of the High Court here.
Application for admission of QC:
It was deliberately false and mischievous for the ministry to state that Mr Littlemore had said in his report that Mr Jeyaretnam had difficulty obtaining a QC to represent him as he had to show that the defamation case was sufficiently difficult and complex to warrant a QC, while the PM was allowed one unopposed.
Appointment of trial judge:
The ministry misrepresented what Mr Littlemore said about the replacement of Justice Chao Hick Tin, who was listed to try the action. The ICJ observer noted in his report that the High Court registrar had said that the trial judge was assigned to the case routinely, by himself and the chief justice.
The Prime Minister was served a pot of tea:
The ministry failed to mention in its response the remarks by Mr Littlemore that "the event probably had more to do with the court attendant's priorities than anything sinister".
Mr Littlemore, who was not privy to the arrangements made between the PM and his lawyers, assumed that the teapot served to Mr Goh when he was in the witness box contained tea.
Court's decision to reserve judgment:
Mr Littlemore had said in his report that the trial judge should have been able to deliver his verdict after counsel for both sides had concluded their submissions.
In its response, the ministry failed to include the last part of the paragraph in the ICJ observer's report, which said: "But others saw the delay as quite normal."
"Again, through the selective use of statements from our observer's report, the ministry has presented the people of Singapore with a false impression," the commission said.