The Lee's Strike Again

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May hearing on Feer libel suit
A TWO-DAY hearing will be held next month to decide if the defamation suits taken by the Prime Minister and Minister Mentor against the Far Eastern Economic Review (Feer) magazine will go to trial.

Lawyers for PM Lee Hsien Loong and MM Lee Kuan Yew had applied for a summary judgment last August, arguing for the High Court to rule on the case without it going to trial.

The court can do so if it is satisfied that the arguments presented by Feer are baseless.

But Feer's lawyers are opposing the move as they want a trial.

Yesterday, at a closed-door High Court hearing, they sought more time to respond to the two leaders' applications.

Justice Woo Bih Li has given Feer until tomorrow to present its arguments.

Both sides will then meet again on May 15 and 16, when the application for the summary judgment will be heard in the High Court.

The Hong Kong-based magazine's editor, Mr Hugo Restall, and its publisher, Review Publishing, are being sued for defamation by PM Lee and MM Lee over an article published in July last year.

The article questioned, among other things, Singapore's reputation for 'squeaky-clean government' and suggested that libel suits were used against critics to cover up 'real misdeeds'.

The Lees' lawyers said the article was calculated to disparage both leaders by suggesting they were corrupt and unfit for office, and that they would sue and suppress those who questioned them as the questions would expose their corruption.

The case has been stretched over the past months by Feer's application for a Queen's Counsel (QC) to represent it last year.

Its lawyers had argued, among other things, that many Senior Counsel here lacked experience in libel suits.

The Court of Appeal disagreed, saying it did not think the case was sufficiently difficult and complex to require a QC.

I noticed certain things in the development of this lawsuit.

Firstly, Feer was only given two days to respond to the two leader's applications. This was based on a high court ruling. I really wonder whether two days will be sufficient and whether it is fair, but maybe this isn't that big of an issue since this really depends on the nature of the applications. If they were entirely new, then Feer should probably have been given more time. I can't say for sure though.

Secondly, the Lee's have requested for a closed-door summary judgment so that they would not have to go to trial. I really wonder what the intentions of such a move are. If they were indeed defamed as the Lee's claimed, wouldn't it make much more sense to go to trial so they could publicly defend their reputations? Or are they afraid that their misdeeds might be exposed?

Thirdly, Feer argued for a Queens Counsel to represent them, but this was rejected by the Court of Appeal which claimed that the case was not sufficiently difficult and complex to require a QC. Now, since when did representation become a minimalist matter? Since when was it the Court's right to determine who represents you? This is really weird, just because other lawyers might be able to comprehend the case doesn't necessarily mean that they are the best, and most capable of defending you. I don't see how in any way the Court of Appeal was justified in rejecting the claim for a QC.

More importantly though, I wonder how this entire court proceeding would turn out. It would be interesting if the Feer actually argued on truth as a defense against defamation. This would really lead to a reopening of previous libel lawsuits, as well as investigation into allegations of government misdeeds. But alas, this is unlikely since the courts themselves have most likely been bought over already.

I wish FEER the best. It was noble of them to speak out, and more so to continue fighting this protracted and costly legal battle.


Anonymous said...

When a summary judgment is obtained, it is just like a summary trial in military courts. That means a guilty verdict is certain. What is left is the quantum of compensation or punishment to be meted out. I wonder what is the next possible action that FEER can take, or is that the end of the road? If there is no more avenue for redress left, then I think Singapore as a whole would probably suffer some backlashes from some quarters unknown to us in the future. This is where leaders' personal issues may affect national interests in the long run.

Peter Pan

joe said...

The Lees have been successful in their libel lawsuits which are heard in Singapore's courts. Yes, you may win all the time but there are things that work in the background that will come back and haunt them. They may have control of Singapore, they cannot control everything outside this little red dot.

People may appear nice, but they are not that nice, if you know what I mean.

Marc said...

One don't have to be a prophet to see this whole thing going to summary judgement.