Govt can sue individuals for defamation

Important decision: Chong (third from left) with (from right) his wife Grace Tan Hui Poh, mother Sim Yaw Sik, father Chong Siew Chiang and counsel Ranjit Singh at the Federal Court after the ruling.

PUTRAJAYA: In a landmark ruling, the Federal Court has decided that the governments at federal and state levels can sue individuals for defamation.

The apex court decided this when it dismissed an appeal by former Kuching MP Chong Chieng Jen.

The court affirmed a Court of Appeal ruling that public authorities could sue an individual for defamation, in the suit brought against him by the Sarawak government.

In a unanimous decision, Court of Appeal President Justice Ahmad Maarop, who chaired the five-man Federal Court Bench, dismissed Chong’s appeal yesterday and ordered the case to be remitted back to the Kuching High Court.

He also said that the Court of Appeal was wrong to rule that Chong, the current Stampin MP, was liable for defamation without hearing his defences.

Justice Ahmad said the trial was to include the determination of the question whether the impugned words were defamatory to the Sarawak government and the State Financial Authority (plaintiffs), Chong’s defence and the assessment of damages, if necessary.

The case has been fixed for case management at the Kuching High Court on Oct 3.

Other judges on the panel were Justices Hasan Lah, Azahar Mohamed and Aziah Ali. Justice Abu Samah Nordin retired in August this year.

Chong who is also Deputy Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister, filed an appeal against the majority decision of the Court of Appeal on April 7, 2016.

The Sarawak government and the state Financial Authority filed the defamation suit against Chong at the Kuching High Court in April 2013.

The suit was over his allegations of “RM11bil disappearing into a black hole” published in a Chinese national daily and a news portal, and in pamphlets distributed by Chong and the DAP.

On April 28, 2014, the Kuching High Court held that the government and the state Financial Authority were not allowed under common law to sue Chong for defamation even though his words against the government were defamatory. The court struck out the government’s suit against Chong.

Court of Appeal President Justice Ahmad Maarop who chaired the five-man Bench, dismissed Chong’s appeal yesterday.

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