Roy Ngerng's application for a Queen's Counsel dismissed by High Court

Roy Ngerng speaking at the Labour Day protest at Hong Lim Park.
Roy Ngerng speaking at the Labour Day protest at Hong Lim Park. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The High Court has dismissed blogger Roy Ngerng's application for a Queen's Counsel (QC) to represent him in a hearing on damages he must pay for defaming Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Mr Ngerng, who was found to have defamed PM Lee by suggesting in one of his blog posts that PM Lee had misappropriated Central Provident Fund savings, said that the Judge had dismissed the application on the grounds that the QC does not have relevant qualifications.

"I was intending to bring in a Queen's Counsel to help fight the defamation suit. It was difficult looking for a Senior Counsel in Singapore who would do so," he wrote in a Facebook post on Thursday.

Mr Ngerng added that the QC he wanted to represent him, Ms Heather Rogers, had helped draft the new defamation law in the United Kingdom. She has also been assisting on Mr Ngerng's case "for a few months now", he revealed in a blog post on Thursday.

"But the judge ruled that she is irrelevant," Mr Ngerng said on his blog.

He added that Justice Steven Chong noted that since Singapore has developed its own jurisprudence in the area of defamation, local factors unique to Singapore will influence the assessment of damages.

Mr Ngerng also said that PM Lee's lawyers have asked him to pay costs of $6,000 for the dismissed QC application, a request the Court has agreed to.

Mr Ngerng's application for a QC was first reported in The Straits Times last week. The hearing for his application took place on Tuesday.

Under Singapore's Legal Profession Act, top-tier counsel like QCs can appear in court when certain conditions are met. One is that the QC has special qualifications or experience for the case at hand.

The court will also look into factors such as whether local senior counsel are available for the case, and whether there is a need to engage the services of a foreign legal counsel.

Attempts to engage QCs for cases in Singapore have often not been successful in the last 10 years.

In 2007, the High Court rejected one such application by the now-defunct Far Eastern Economic Review. The Hong Kong-based magazine wanted to use a QC in a defamation suit brought against it by PM Lee and the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, who was then Minister Mentor.

More recently, banker Deepak Sharma tried unsuccessfully to get a QC to represent him against two lawyers. He had accused them of overcharging for work they did in representing the Singapore Medical Council against his wife, Dr Susan Lim, in disciplinary and court proceedings.

After he was found to have defamed PM Lee, Mr Ngerng has already paid the Prime Minister $29,000 in legal fees and related expenses, as ruled by the High Court. A hearing to assess the amount of damages he needs to pay will be held next month.