AGC allowed to appeal against ruling that Govt cannot invoke anti-harassment law

SINGAPORE - Is the Government entitled to invoke an anti-harrassment law that allows victims of false statements to seek remedies from the court?

The question will be determined by Singapore's highest court, after the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) was on Wednesday (Feb 10) granted permission to appeal against a High Court decision that had answered "no".

In the current case, the AGC had invoked Section 15 of the Protection from Harassment Act against five individuals who run socio-political blog The Online Citizen (TOC) and Dr Ting Choon Meng.

This was after TOC published an interview with Dr Ting, whose company, MobileStats Technologies, had sued the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) in 2011 for infringing its patent for a mobile emergency medical station. The suit was eventually dropped.

Mindef took issue with Dr Ting's statements in the interview that it had knowingly infringed his patent and that it had dragged out court proceedings to wear him down financially. Mindef responded with a statement on Facebook.

When Dr Ting ignored demands to stop making his statements, the AGC applied for a court order that his comments could not be published unless they came with a note to say that they were false and that the truth was in Mindef's statement.

In May, a district judge found both of Dr Ting's statements to be false, and granted the AGC's application. Dr Ting and TOC appealed.

The High Court allowed the appeal on the basis that the Government is not a "person" under the provision and cannot apply for such an order.

Judicial Commissioner See Kee Oon found only the second statement to be false, as it was not Mindef but vendor Syntech Engineers that conducted the litigation.

He also noted that TOC had presented Mindef's side of the story on its site.

A hearing date for the appeal has yet to be fixed.

selinal@sph.com.sg