Lee Kuan Yew estate, Govt to bear own costs in suit over transcripts

Mr Lee Kuan Yew speaking at a PAP rally in 1980.
Mr Lee Kuan Yew speaking at a PAP rally in 1980.PHOTO: ST FILE

The High Court has ruled that the executors of the estate of Mr Lee Kuan Yew and the Government bear their own costs in the legal suit over an interview agreement Mr Lee had made with the Government.

Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang, as executors of their father's estate, had applied to the High Court to clarify his agreement in relation to interviews he had given in the 1980s for a government oral history project.

They had sought to have the High Court declare that all rights to the interview transcripts belong to the estate following Mr Lee's death on March 23 last year.

The Government, defended by the Attorney-General, had contested their claims, arguing that Mr Lee's right to grant permission for use of the transcripts, access to them, or copies to be made, was personal to him, and he did not intend for this right to be transferred to his estate after his death.

NOT PRESSING FOR COSTS

However, as the Government is not pressing for costs and in view of what I have said, I agree that each party should bear its own costs for these two matters.

JUDGE OF APPEAL TAY YONG KWANG, in judgment grounds released yesterday.

In September, Judge of Appeal (JA) Tay Yong Kwang ruled that while the estate does hold the copyright to the transcripts, it was only for the purpose of ensuring the Government's compliance with the terms of the agreement.

Based on the agreement between the late Mr Lee and the Government, the transcripts were to have been kept by the Cabinet Secretary.

Last month, Dr Lee and Mr Lee had also applied to court to appeal against a particular decision JA Tay had made in the course of the hearing: They wanted to submit to court a detailed account of how their father's interview transcripts had ended up with the Government after his death. But JA Tay did not allow it, saying that "the details were unnecessary and quite irrelevant" to the case. They later withdrew their appeal.

At issue was who should pay costs for both the High Court suit as well as the court application to submit the detailed account, both of which were dismissed by JA Tay.

Rajah & Tann's Senior Counsel Lee Eng Beng and lawyer Chew Xiang argued for the estate executors that each party should bear its own costs.

The Government, represented by Second Solicitor-General Kwek Mean Luck, Koo Zhi Xuan and Germaine Boey from the Attorney- General's Chambers, maintained that "while it is entitled to costs since costs generally follow the event, it is not pressing for costs and would leave the issue to the court".

JA Tay, in judgment grounds released yesterday, stressed that both the plaintiffs and the Government had pursued their positions in the case "honourably and honestly". He noted that both parties held "genuine views as to how the interview agreement ought to be interpreted" and, ordinarily, the Government is entitled to costs as the court ruled in its favour in both matters.

"However, as the Government is not pressing for costs and in view of what I have said, I agree that each party should bear its own costs for these two matters," he ruled.

The estate executors are appealing against the court's dismissal of their suit.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 02, 2016, with the headline 'LKY estate, Govt to bear own costs in suit over transcripts'. Print Edition | Subscribe