SINGAPORE - Mr Michael Vaz, a prominent figure in the local shooting scene, was ordered by the High Court on Monday (Dec 4) to pay damages of $30,000 for defaming the Singapore Rifle Association (SRA).
The defamation suit arose over two statements made by Mr Vaz in his capacity as president of the Singapore Gun Club (SGC). One was circulated by e-mail to club members and the other was published on the club's website and Facebook page.
Mr Vaz made the remarks following the closure of the National Shooting Centre in February last year after the police found licensing irregularities at the armouries of the SGC and the SRA - both tenants at the centre - and seized 77 firearms.
Mr Vaz is also president of the Singapore Shooting Association (SSA), the national authority for shooting.
In his statements, Mr Vaz insinuated that SRA was to blame for the closure of the centre as well as for proposed enhanced security requirements imposed by the police.
On Monday, Judicial Commissioner Pang Khang Chau found that, on reading Mr Vaz's statements, an ordinary person would infer that the centre was closed due to SRA's non-compliance with police requirements and that the new rules and procedures were being implemented due to SRA's fault.
The judge said the statements were not justified as the centre had been closed to facilitate police investigations and the enhanced security requirements had been sought by the police long before the closure.
The judge rejected Mr Vaz's defence of qualified privilege, saying he could have limited himself to explaining the closure to SGC members without going into the details of SRA's breaches.
"The defendant had no duty to convey these to SGC members and SGC members had neither the duty nor the interest to receive such information," said the judge.
In terms of damages, the judge noted that the SRA, which has 155 years of history and boasts prominent members among its ranks, was a reputable organisation.
While SRA's reputation had "taken a hit somewhat" after the licensing irregularities were uncovered, Mr Vaz's statements had done further damage, he said.
He also took into account Mr Vaz's high standing in the shooting community, which means his remarks will be taken very seriously and cause more damage to SRA's reputation than if it had come from an average SGC member.
Mr Vaz was also ordered to pay legal costs to the SRA, which was represented by Drew & Napier lawyer Wendell Wong.
In a press statement, a spokesman for the SRA council said it felt vindicated by the decision. The spokesman noted that Mr Vaz refused to take down the defamatory posts despite requests made by SRA.
The court's finding that Mr Vaz had damaged SRA's reputation and the award of damages and legal costs to SRA "will definitely help to close this chapter", said the spokesman.
Contacted for comment, Mr Vaz said: “The court has its view and I have my own view. I disagree with the court’s view.” He said he will wait for advice from his lawyers on whether to file an appeal.