Blogger plans to appeal against decision over PM Lee's libel suit

The counterclaim by blogger Leong Sze Hian (above) that the libel suit brought by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong against him is an abuse of court process was struck out by the High Court last week.
The counterclaim by blogger Leong Sze Hian (above) that the libel suit brought by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong against him is an abuse of court process was struck out by the High Court last week.

Blogger Leong Sze Hian plans to appeal against a High Court judgment dismissing his counterclaim in a libel suit brought against him by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

In a written judgment issued last week, Justice Aedit Abdullah had struck out Mr Leong's counterclaim that the libel suit is an abuse of court process, saying the legal basis it was premised on did not exist. The Court of Appeal had ruled in an earlier case that abuse of court process is not recognised in Singapore law.

Lawyer Lim Tean, representing Mr Leong, said in a statement yesterday that in striking out the counterclaim, the High Court was bound by the earlier apex court ruling, which "sets down a blanket rule that there is no tort of abuse of process and providing for no exceptions".

But there are "good arguments" for why the current case should be distinguished from the previous case, said Mr Lim, who is from Carson Law Chambers. He said recognising abuse of court process is "especially important to safeguard freedom of expression".

PM Lee had initiated legal action against Mr Leong last December, after the blogger shared on Facebook part of the headline of an article from Malaysian news portal The Coverage, with a link to the full article. It was titled "Breaking News: Singapore Lee Hsien Loong Becomes 1MDB's Key Investigation Target - Najib Signed Several Unfair Agreements With Hsien Loong In Exchange For Money Laundering".

The article alleged that former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak had signed "secret deals" with PM Lee in exchange for Singapore banks' help in laundering money from Malaysian state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

PM Lee's lawyers said the article's allegations were "false and baseless" and that it was clear Mr Leong had published the post "maliciously and to damage our client".

 
 
 

Mr Leong had filed an application to strike out the defamation suit, which Justice Aedit also dismissed in the same written judgment.

Addressing the judge's decision to uphold PM Lee's claim against Mr Leong, Mr Lim said there could have been "no damage caused by the few people who read the post".

He said Mr Leong, for his defence at trial, will still be able to rely on the argument that PM Lee's claim is an abuse of process. "Our client does not assert what the article was alleged to have said was true. He will challenge the Prime Minister's case on meaning, extent of publication, on republication and malice."

Justice Aedit had awarded costs for both applications to PM Lee.

On Monday, Mr Leong posted on Facebook a letter he received from PM Lee's lawyers from Davinder Singh Chambers last Thursday, which instructed him to pay $21,000 for the legal costs incurred in both applications. The letter stated that Mr Leong had to pay the full sum by 5pm tomorrow.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 20, 2019, with the headline 'Blogger plans to appeal against decision over PM Lee's libel suit'. Print Edition | Subscribe