Jeyaretnam libel appeal rejected
Reuters. July 17, 1998.
See also: Goh wins big increase in damages
Related: Straits Times reports
SINGAPORE'S's Court of Appeal has dismissed an appeal by veteran opposition leader Joshua Jeyaretnam in a defamation case and raised the damages he must pay Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong five-fold.
The leader of the Workers' Party also must pay costs which his attorney had estimated earlier could be as much as S$2 million (US$1.18 million).
The court, in a judgment delivered on Friday, dismissed his appeal of the finding against him in a case brought by Goh and raised the damages from S$20,000 (US$11,800) to S$100,000.
The court also said that Jeyaretnam would have to pay 100 percent of court costs, rather than the 60 percent ordered in the High Court decision last year.
Jeyaretnam and Goh had each made respective appeals of that decision, with Jeyaretnam saying it should be thrown out and Goh saying the damages and costs Jeyaretnam had to pay should be increased.
Friday's judgment covered both appeals.
The High Court said last year that Jeyaretnam defamed Goh by referring to a public row between his fellow WP member Tang Liang Hong and Goh and other leaders of the ruling People's Action Party (PAP).
Judge S. Rajendran found that when Jeyaretnam told an election rally that Tang had filed a police report against the prime minister, he implied Goh might have done something wrong.
Goh and 10 fellow leaders of the PAP had brought eight cases of libel against Jeyaretnam, and Goh's case had been taken as a test which would determine the rulings in them all.
Jeyaretnam's lawyer had argued in the appeal that the case should be thrown out because it was politically motivated. He said Goh had hoped to drive Jeyaretnam out of parliament by making him bankrupt.
"All these suits were brought because of a political agenda,'' senior British lawyer Charles Gray had argued on Jeyaretnam's behalf in April.
"It is simply not possible to spell out a defamatory meaning'' from the mere announcement of a police report, Gray had said.
But arguing for Goh, lawyer and PAP member of parliament Davinder Singh said Jeyaretnam's announcement on the eve of Singapore's general election on January 2, 1997, had an implied meaning well known to the general public and his audience.
During the election, the PAP leaders accused Tang of holding unacceptable views in Singapore, which has an ethnic Chinese majority but substantial Malay and Indian minorities. The PAP leaders said Tang was an "anti-Christian Chinese chauvinist.''
Tang said he would sue and filed police reports accusing Goh and his colleagues of criminal conspiracy and lying.
Jeyaretnam told Reuters on Friday that he was not prepared to make an immediate comment on the judgment on the appeals.
Gray had estimated in April that Jeyaretnam's liability in the case could be as much as S$2 million in total costs.
"Two million dollars would spell bankruptcy for Jeyaretnam,'' he said. "And what would be the consequences of bankruptcy? Mr Jeyaretnam would be mandatorily disqualified as an MP, driven from politics, politically liquidated.''
But Singh said it was Jeyaretnam, not the prime minister, who had sought to make the trial political.
South China Morning Post: July 18, 1998
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE in Singapore
A COURT of appeal yesterday sharply raised the amount of damages awarded to Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong in a defamation suit against a veteran opposition leader who could be removed from Parliament if he is unable to pay.
The three-man court, in a final ruling on the protracted battle between Mr Goh and J. B. Jeyaretnam, raised the damages to S$100,000, five times the amount awarded in the original trial, plus legal costs.
Mr Goh had sued Mr Jeyaretnam over remarks made at a rally ahead of general elections in January 1997 and later appealed against a ruling giving him only S$20,000.
Mr Jeyaretnam, a veteran government critic, is the secretary-general of the tiny Workers' Party, which espouses liberal causes and is the most vocal and persistent critic of the Government.
Singapore leaders, who have previously won substantial amounts in damages from political opponents, deny using lawsuits to silence their critics.