Jailed Jakarta school staff get damages for defamation

Court awards $130k to duo and $100k to school in case involving allegations of sexual abuse

Two convicted school staff currently in a Jakarta jail for child abuse were awarded a total of $130,000 in damages by the Singapore High Court in a defamation suit against the mother of an alleged victim.

The court also ordered the 33-year-old German national to pay a further $100,000 to the private international school in Jakarta as well as the principal of its elementary campus. Both had also sued her.

But the sums awarded were only a fraction of the $7.95 million in general, special and aggravated damages sought by the four parties, who were not named in judgment grounds released yesterday.

The plaintiffs had obtained a default judgment last year against the woman, who did not show up to contest the case. The issue turned on how much they should be paid.

"There is no fixed formula governing the assessment of damages. To ensure that such assessments proceed in a coherent and principled fashion, sufficient regard must be paid to past awards in comparable cases," said Justice Lee Seiu Kin.

In addition to considering the gravity and extent of the allegations, and the standing of the plaintiffs, the judge noted that past awards ranged from $15,000 to $140,000 in comparable cases here. The severity of the allegations did not justify $300,000 for general damages, which belongs to the scale of awards for public leaders here, he ruled.

The plaintiffs also sought aggravated damages, pointing out that the woman had failed to retract her statements or apologise, and had tried to evade acceptance of court papers, among other things.

Justice Lee ruled that the school, as a corporate entity, was not entitled to aggravated damages but that the other three parties were entitled, as objective evidence including a physical examination at KK Women's & Children's Hospital showed that the woman's son had not been assaulted. Justice Lee awarded $20,000 to each of the trio in aggravated damages.

The judge turned down the claims of all four parties for special damages,which is usually recoverable for economic loss following injury to their reputation. The school had sought US$2.98 million (S$4.1 million) in special damages for the shortfall in enrolment.

But the judge found that it did not show the extent of the woman's blame, given that the scandal at the school started in March last year, two months before she made the allegations. The judge also called the claims for special damages made by the other three parties, totalling $2.04 million, "misconceived".

The suit involved statements about the sexual abuse of schoolchildren that the woman, whose son was a student at the school, had made in e-mails and WhatsApp messages against the four parties.

The two staff in an Indonesian jail are a Canadian former school administrator and an Indonesian former teacher's aide. Both had been convicted of child abuse in a Jakarta court in April and sentenced to 10 years' jail each and fined. Both are appealing against the verdicts.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 21, 2015, with the headline 'Jailed Jakarta school staff get damages for defamation'. Print Edition | Subscribe