Is the Government entitled to invoke an anti-harassment law that allows persons who are victims of false statements to seek remedies from the court?
The question will be determined by Singapore's apex court, after the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) was yesterday granted permission to appeal against a High Court decision that had answered "no".
The case hinges on whether the Government can be considered a "person" under Section 15 of the Protection from Harassment Act.
In the current case, the AGC had invoked the law 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 responded with a statement on Facebook. It 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.
When Dr Ting ignored demands to stop making the statements, the AGC applied for a court order that his comments could not be published unless they came with a note to say that they were false and that Mindef's statement gave the truth.
In May last year , a district judge found both of Dr Ting's statements to be false, and granted the AGC's application.
TOC, represented by Mr Eugene Thuraisingam, and Dr Ting, represented by Mr Choo Zheng Xi, appealed, arguing that Mindef cannot apply for such an order as the Government is not a "person" under the provision. Judicial Commissioner See Kee Oon agreed, ruling that only human beings have the right to apply for such court orders.
He 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.
Yesterday, an AGC spokesman said that it applied for permission to appeal against the High Court decision so that this novel question of law of public importance could be placed before the Court of Appeal for its determination.