Hello everyone, the defamation suit that I am facing from the Singapore prime minister is still ongoing, by the way. The hearing to decide how much I have to pay the prime minister will be held next month, from 1 to 3 July. The prime minister has filed the defamation suit in the High Court which oversees cases of more than S$250,000 so this is at least how much I might be expected to pay him. You can buy a HDB flat with that kind of money.
I had applied to bring in a Queen’s Counsel from the United Kingdom (UK) to help fight the case. A Queen’s Counsel is the equivalent of a Senior Counsel in Singapore. The case was heard two days ago and the judge gave his judgement this morning.
Today, the judge said No.
He dismissed my application. He said that his inclination is that I should not be allowed to bring in the Queen’s Counsel because it is irrelevant.
Here was what happened.
The judge said that he does not think that the Queen’s Counsel has special qualifications for the case and that there is insufficient reason to bring her in.
Just to let you know, the Queen’s Counsel, Heather Rogers, has been assisting me on my case for a few months now, at least. So she knows the case better than anyone does. Also, Ms Rogers has also helped to draft the UK’s new defamation law. So she has ample experience and expertise in the area of defamation law.
But the judge ruled that she is irrelevant. Davinder also argued that she is irrelevant. The AGC and Law Society also argued that she is irrelevant.
The judge said that Ms Rogers needs to have a “particular expertise”. He said that the defamation suit is brought by a public figure (prime minister) on a private individual (me), and that Singapore has developed its own jurisprudence in the area of defamation. So, he said, for the assessment of damages, it is particularly dependent on the local factors and unique situation in Singapore.
He also said that the court in Singapore takes into account the social and political factors in Singapore.
The judge said that between the freedom of expression and the protection of individuals, there needs to be a balance. He said that the political culture in Singapore places a premium of “honesty” in its public discourse and that it is dependent on the reputation of public figures. Wow, really.
He said that how the damages should be decided is based on “well-founded” principles of the law of defamation in Singapore. Well-founded, he said.
The judge also said that I need not bring in Ms Rogers because he believes that there is a large pool of local lawyers who can represent me. To let you know, I have contacted several senior counsels who have all declined to represent me. So, yeah.
In his judgement, the judge also said that for the assessment of damages, he said that it is to decide whether there is “malice” on my part, in writing the article that the prime minister took issue with. As such, he believes that I should be the one who should be cross-examined. He does not so much think that the prime minister should be cross-examined, and therefore I do not need the Queen’s Counsel, he said.
This was also what Davinder said during the trial. He said that he does not know if there is scope for the prime minister to be cross-examined.
At one point, the judge also mentioned the “David and Goliath factor”, and then he added that he does not know who is David and who is Goliath in the defamation suit. He doesn’t know. Do you?
The judge also said that Singapore’s defamation law is different from the UK’s because the UK’s defamation law has been overhauled and has been influenced by Europe’s human rights laws and the European Court of Justice. He said that the defamation law has been taken further than Singapore. That should mean something, right?
However, the judge said that because the UK’s defamation law has been overhauled, the Queen’s Counsel’s expertise is therefore not relevant.
The judge’s name is Steven Chong. Remember this name.
Steven Chong was the Attorney General until last year. So, he was actually the government’s lawyer.
Earlier during the hearing, my lawyer, George Hwang, had said that I have apologised to the prime minister. The judge even asked why then there was a need for a summary judgement. (The prime minister applied for a summary judgment last year to ask the judge to rule that I have defamed him.) Very good question. I do not know why too.
If the judge would say this, doesn’t this means that something is quite wrong here?
My lawyer also said that it would be unfair to his client (me) to be handicapped if the Queen’s Counsel is not admitted. However, the judge said that unfairness does not factor into the equation until all things are equal, and that there is still some way to go before the balancing test. I don’t know what he is trying to say here.
My lawyer also explained that last year, I had assessed the damages to pay the prime minister to be $5,000 as that was what I could afford (but the prime minister said that this is “derisory”) . The judge shot back and asked if the offer was not “genuine”. My lawyer explained that I was a healthcare worker (before I was fired) and this was what I could afford. The judge then said that the court does not look at whether people have the financial means or whether they do not have the financial means to pay. He said that, otherwise, it would make a mockery of the law. OK…
The judge said that the damages is assessed based on the reputation of the plaintiff (the prime minister). He said it is not made according to the means of the defendant (me). Yes, he said this.
The judge also said that there is a wealth of evidence in Singapore on how much political figures are paid in Singapore.
So yeah, we should trust Singapore’s system then.
The judge also added that whether the act is done on the Internet or by a blogger does not change how the rules should apply. But my lawyer argued that this is the first case of the prime minister suing a blogger and that in order to mount a defence, it is important to admit a Queen’s Counsel.
Still, the judge ruled that I will not be allowed to bring in the Queen’s Counsel.
During the hearing, the judge also said that if someone chooses to put an article in cyberspace, there are consequences, so there are consequences.
So there are consequences.
When it came to Davinder’s turn to argue during the hearing, he said that Singapore has struck out on its own, in terms of the defamation law and that it has grown into an “impressive body of local law both in terms of liability and damages”.
He also said that it is important to maintain the reputation of political leaders and that due respect should be given to political leaders not only because of who they are but because of the institutions they represent.
Sometimes, I wonder if the reputation of citizens like you and I do not matter at all.
Davinder also said that the fact that I am a blogger is irrelevant because the time for assessing my liability has passed. The court have ruled that I have defamed the prime minister.
AGC and the Law Society were also present during the hearing.
AGC argued that the hearing on the damages is a “simple, ordinary case” and that a Queen’s Counsel is not needed. AGC also said that Parliament had decided that a Queen’s Counsel should only be admitted for complex cases.
AGC said that the hearing of damages is “local and unique”, and so said that a Queen’s Counsel is not necessary.
The Law Society also said that a party cannot be allowed to “create a climate of crisis for his own case”. Erm. OK.
The Law Society also argued that I should not be allowed to bring in a Queen’s Counsel.
Pretty much, Davinder, AGC and the Law Society were saying the same things. And the judge agreed with them.
After the judge passed his judgement today, Davinder argued for me to pay costs to them for this application. He argued that it was groundless for me to make this application to bring in a Queen’s Counsel.
Davinder wanted me to pay $6,000 to them.
The judge swiftly agreed with him and asked me to pay $6,000.
Almost immediately after the hearing ended, I received a letter from Davinder to ask me to pay the $6,000 within the next one week, by 18 June.
Earlier this year, they made me pay $29,000 to them for costs for the summary judgment. Now, they want $6,000 for just 1 1/2 hours of trial. In July, they will ask for hundreds and thousands of damages. I will be as good as bankrupt very soon.
They want to make me Pay And Pay.
All I wanted was for the government to be transparent on its management of our CPF. Is it too much to ask for? It is the responsibility of the government to be transparent to its citizens. You shouldn’t get persecuted for asking for so.
The hearing to decide how much I have to pay the prime minister will be held from 1 to 3 July.
Very soon, I won’t be able to speak up anymore.
Do you still believe in the justice system in Singapore?