PUTRAJAYA, March 12 — The Federal Court will hear and determine a legal question on whether political parties could file defamation suits against individuals.
This follows a decision by a three-man bench led by Chief Judge of Malaya Tan Sri Azahar Mohamed today to allow Kepong Member of Parliament Lim Lip Eng’s application to obtain leave to pursue his appeal in the Federal Court pertaining to a defamation suit filed against him by MCA.
Justice Azahar granted leave for Lim to appeal against the Court of Appeal and High Court decisions, saying that there were merits for the court to hear his appeal on the legal question.
The legal question to be determined by the Federal Court is whether a political party can maintain a suit for defamation in the light of the decisions in Goldsmith v Bhoyrul (1998) and Rajagopal v Jayalalitha (2006).
The other two judges were Federal Court judges Datuk Seri Mohd Zawawi Salleh and Datuk Abdul Rahman Sebli.
In July 2017, then MCA secretary-general Ong Ka Chuan filed a defamation suit against Lim over the remarks he made at a press conference at the Parliament building on March 15, 2016 over allegations pertaining to the government and public funds allocation for National Type Chinese Schools (SJKC).
Ong claimed that Lim’s remarks had seriously injured MCA’s reputation, adding that the party was seeking RM100 million in general and exemplary damages.
On February 27, 2018, the High Court rejected Lim’s application to strike out the suit and he lost his appeal at the Court of Appeal, which was dismissed on grounds that there were issues to be tried before the High Court.
Earlier, lawyer Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram, who represented Lim, submitted that registered societies including political parties cannot file defamation suits because they have no reputation unlike an individual.
He, however, said they can be sued or sue for other civil actions, adding that the position of political parties was similar to that of the government under the Government Proceedings Act 1956.
Sri Ram said leave should be granted as there is no court decision on defamation suits filed by political parties.
Lawyer Ang Boon Heng representing Ong submitted that leave ought not to be granted as the law on the issue was settled following a Federal Court decision two years ago in a defamation suit filed by the Sarawak government against Sarawak DAP chairman Chong Chieng Jen.
The Federal Court in that case ruled that the government could sue individuals for defamation. — Bernama