LKY estate appeals against ruling over transcripts

The estate of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew has appealed against the High Court's ruling on an agreement he made with the Government regarding interviews he gave in the 1980s.

Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang, as executors of their father's estate, filed an appeal on Thursday. They had gone to court last year to seek a declaration that all rights to the interview transcripts belong to the estate following Mr Lee's death on March 23 last year.

But the High Court ruled last month that while the estate held copyright over the transcripts, it did not have custody over them or have the rights to freely use them.

Earlier this month, Dr Lee and Mr Lee had also applied to appeal against a particular decision of Justice Tay Yong Kwang: They had wanted to submit an account of how their father's interview transcripts ended up with the Government after his death, but Justice Tay did not allow it, saying "the details were unnecessary and quite irrelevant" to the case.

The estate wanted to appeal against this particular decision, but withdrew the application on Oct 21.

The transcripts contain accounts of affairs of state as observed and experienced by Mr Lee, who was prime minister when he gave the interviews as part of a government oral history project in the 1980s.

He had signed an agreement with the Cabinet Secretary and the Director of Archives in 1983 specifying terms for the transcripts' use and administration. Under these terms, they would be kept in the Cabinet Secretary's custody until 2000, or five years after Mr Lee's death, whichever is later. During this moratorium, no person should have access to, supply copies or be able to use the transcripts without having had Mr Lee Kuan Yew's express written permission. After this period, the Government may hand the transcripts to the Director of Archives.

The estate had argued that it should have all rights over the transcripts after Mr Lee's death.

But the Government countered that Mr Lee's right to grant permission for use of the transcripts, access to them, or for copies to be made, was personal to him.

In his judgment last month, Justice Tay ruled that it was not the intention of the late Mr Lee for his estate to have free use or custody of the transcripts. He noted that while the estate does hold the copyright to them, it was only for ensuring the Government's compliance with the terms of the agreement.

Based on the agreement, the transcripts were to have been kept by the Cabinet Secretary. But they were found at the late Mr Lee's Oxley Road home after his death.

Sometime between March 23 and May 5 last year, a member of the late Mr Lee's family handed them to the Cabinet Secretary without the knowledge or consent of the estate.

The statement the estate had wanted to submit was to have provided more details on what transpired. But Justice Tay said the details "would only serve to distract from the real issues".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2016, with the headline 'LKY estate appeals against ruling over transcripts'. Print Edition | Subscribe