TOC contributor loses third bid to mount constitutional challenge in criminal defamation case

Daniel De Costa faces two charges, one for criminal defamation and one for the unauthorised use of another person's e-mail account. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A man accused of defaming members of the Cabinet in an article published on socio-political website The Online Citizen (TOC) has lost his latest bid to mount a constitutional challenge against his criminal charges.

The High Court said on Tuesday (June 2) that Daniel De Costa, 37, has not raised any novel constitutional issues as the question he posed had been determined by the Court of Appeal in a previous case.

After the verdict was delivered in court, De Costa's lawyer, Mr M. Ravi, told reporters that he will not be making any more applications.

A pre-trial conference has been scheduled on June 23 for the actual trial in the State Courts, he said.

De Costa faces two charges, one for criminal defamation and one for the unauthorised use of another person's e-mail account.

He is accused of using the account without the owner's consent to send an e-mail to TOC alleging that there was "corruption at the highest echelons".

The site's editor, Terry Xu, also faces a criminal defamation charge.

However, De Costa contended that his e-mail merely repeated allegations made by Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling, siblings of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, which had been discussed in public.

He took issue with the fact that he was prosecuted, while PM Lee's siblings were not.

On the first day of his trial in November last year, De Costa filed an application in the State Courts to refer a legal question to the High Court, on whether the Cabinet is entitled to the same protection under the Constitution as an individual.

The bid was dismissed by District Judge Christopher Tan.

De Costa then filed a second application. This time, he questioned whether the charges against him contravened his constitutional right to equality before the law in the light of the fact that PM Lee's siblings were not prosecuted.

The district judge dismissed the second bid.

De Costa then filed a criminal motion in the High Court, seeking to compel the State Courts to refer his question to the superior court.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Mohamed Faizal Mohamed Abdul Kadir argued that the principles governing prosecutorial discretion have been conclusively enunciated by the apex court.

Justice Aedit Abdullah agreed.

But the judge declined the prosecution's request for Mr Ravi to personally pay legal costs for pursuing the motion.

The DPP had argued that Mr Ravi failed to properly advise his client on the lack of merit in the application, which was frivolous, vexatious and an abuse of process.

However, Justice Aedit said the application could be "the product of a misunderstanding of the law".

"It may have been misplaced optimism, but that is not enough to order costs personally against the applicant's counsel," said the judge.

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