Court of Appeal refuses woman's bid for leave to appeal defamation case; surgeon expresses remorse over actions that led to lawsuit

Dr Julian Ong (left) had sued Ms Serene Tiong for defamation.
Dr Julian Ong (left) had sued Ms Serene Tiong for defamation.PHOTOS: ONG WEE JIN, SHIN MIN DAILY NEWS

SINGAPORE - A surgeon, who won a defamation lawsuit against a woman in a widely publicised court case, has expressed remorse and apologised for his actions that led to the litigation.

Dr Julian Ong said on Tuesday (Nov 24) he was now able to comment on it since the legal process has come to an end.

Last Friday, defendant Serene Tiong's final bid to further appeal against the case was refused by Singapore's top court.

This was announced in a Singapore Exchange filing on Tuesday evening by Catalist-listed HC Surgical Specialists (HCSS), which owns 70 per cent of Dr Ong's endoscopy clinic.

It was Ms Tiong's second and final attempt at seeking leave to appeal the High Court decision which went against her. Her first failed attempt was last month.

The High Court had found her liable last month for defamation, granting Dr Ong an injunction against her and ordering damages to be assessed.

Ms Tiong was sued for defamation by Dr Ong in the State Courts, which ruled in her favour in April, but the High Court reversed the finding early last month on appeal by Dr Ong. This led Ms Tiong to apply for leave to appeal against the High Court decision.

The Court of Appeal, comprising Judges of Appeal Andrew Phang and Tay Yong Kwang, considered written submissions from both parties in refusing her leave to appeal against the High Court decision and ordered her to pay $5,000 in costs to Dr Ong for the application.

Dr Ong had sued Ms Tiong for claiming that he and psychiatrist Chan Herng Nieng colluded to take sexual advantage of vulnerable women patients.

A district judge had ruled in her favour in April but Dr Ong succeeded on appeal to the High Court which reversed the lower court's decision.

She was ordered to pay $40,000 in costs to the surgeon for the proceedings.

In the latest appeal, Dr Ong's lawyers from Dentons Rodyk, comprising Senior Counsel Philip Jeyaretnam and lawyers Christopher Chong and Aw Sze Min, had argued, among other things, that none of the criteria for leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal had been satisfied.

Ms Tiong was represented by lawyers Ong Ying Ping and Kenneth Chua, with help from Senior Counsel Kenneth Tan and lawyer Paul Seah from TKQP.

Dr Ong told The Straits Times: "Now that the legal process is over, I feel that this might be the right time to say a few words.

"I had kept silent amidst the uproar despite many misconceptions, to allow the legal process to find the right way, and thankfully, it did. I believe in the legal process, and also that the Singapore Medical Council will be balanced and measured."

Apologising for his errors in judgment, Dr Ong said the people who were "hurt the most in this are my wife, my family, friends who have stood by me and loved me, and my patients who must have been shocked by the allegations".

He added: "I have let them down. Many of these people have also stood by me, especially my colleagues and staff in HC Surgical Specialists and many of my old patients, and I am truly humbled and grateful for this."

He further said that he had never taken advantage of any of his patients, nor ever planned to do so.

"The contact that I shared with my friend was with the patient's consent and for the express purpose of business. This was with the patient's knowledge. Any text messages I sent were meant to be taken tongue in cheek by my friend, who understood this implicitly," he added.

Acknowledging the admonishment he received from the High Court for the way he behaved, he said his behaviour left much room for improvement.

The whole episode has been a good lesson, he added, and “it will help me be a better person and doctor”.

He further said that if he were to address Ms Tiong, he would say sorry for the hurt she feels, but “we should try and move on”.