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KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 29 — The federal government should mull changing local laws to either scrap or limit its right to file defamation lawsuits against Malaysians, minister Gobind Singh Deo said today.
Gobind said the communications and multimedia ministry which he heads was concerned with the Federal Court’s Wednesday decision that the government has the right to sue individuals for defamation.
“The Federal Court relied on the provisions in the Government Proceedings Act 1956 in arriving at the said decision.
“It is my view that the government should consider amending the said Act so as to remove or restrict the right of governments to sue its citizens for defamation,” Gobind, who was a practising lawyer, said in statement today.
Gobind backed the call by his colleague, deputy minister for law Hanipa Maidin, for a committee to be formed to carry out an in-depth study of the Federal Court judgment and make proposals to the Cabinet for legal amendments.
Gobind said he believes that the guarantee of free expression also covers the right of citizens to express their views — regardless of whether their views were in favour or against of the government that they had voted in.
“In addition to that, I take the view that governments ought to be deemed as public bodies which should be open to criticism.
“This is the essence of democracy which must allow for governments to be subject to public scrutiny and comment,” he said.
After coming into power in May, various members of the Pakatan Harapan government had repeatedly said that Malaysians would now be free to criticise or make critical opinions about the government.
The previous Barisan Nasional administration was seen as being less receptive or tolerant of dissent and criticism.
On Wednesday, the Federal Court reportedly upheld the Court of Appeal’s majority ruling that the Sarawak state government and state financial authority could sue for defamation against then Bandar Kuching MP Chong Chieng Jen.
The Federal Court said that the federal government and state governments had the statutory right to do so.
Chong is now Stampin MP and a deputy minister.
Local daily The Star had reported Hanipa as saying yesterday that a meeting will be held and a committee formed to study the matter, with the former lawyer arguing that the Government Proceedings Act does allow the government to sue but suggested that there was a need to differentiate between defamation and other type of lawsuits.
He reportedly said he believed the government would not be suing anyone for defamation, highlighting that Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad himself is not fond of suing others for defamation.