Court of Appeal judges say MINDEF is not a person, can't benefit from Protection from Harassment Act

Two out of the three judges ruled in TOC's favour.

Jeanette Tan | January 16, 2017, 06:08 PM

In a landmark ruling, two of Singapore's three Court of Appeal judges decided that the government is not a person.

This decision means that no government entity (ministry, agency, stat board, for instance) can press charges of harassment by any other individual or party in Singapore's courts under the Protection from Harassment Act, which came into effect in 2013.

But okay, this may still sound like Greek to you.

Let's backtrack and explain —

The case

Photo from Ting Choon Meng's Facebook page Photo from Ting Choon Meng's Facebook page

This is Dr Ting Choon Meng.

He said he told some Ministry of Defence officials about an idea for a mobile emergency clinic in 2005 at a trade fair, which they then allegedly copied, even though he had a patent for it.

Ting's company, then-called MobileStats Technologies, sued MINDEF instead of the company that made the actual vehicles (Syntech Engineers), and ended up dropping the case because legal costs were too high. The court then ruled that his patent was invalid and revoked it.

And here's where the Protection from Harassment Act comes in:

MINDEF, represented by the Attorney-General's Chambers, decided to seek a court order for to publish corrections to Ting's story, which was published there, under the Act.

The judge at the time allowed it, ruling that MINDEF should be entitled to protections accorded by the Act, saying that if not, companies would not be able to seek recourse from it.

Ting's lawyers, one of whom was then-TOC managing editor Choo Zheng Xi, appealed this ruling, on the basis that the purpose of the Act is to protect "persons" from harassment and unlawful stalking, not entities or organisations.

This was in May 2015. The High Court then agreed with TOC, while MINDEF brought the case to the Court of Appeal.

Which brings us back to Monday, January 16, 2017. 

After about two years, two of the three judges in Singapore's highest court, the Court of Appeal, agreed with TOC's and Ting's lawyers, and said no, the government is not a person:

Photo from Choo Zheng Xi's Facebook post Photo from Choo Zheng Xi's Facebook post

As signed by Judges of Appeal Andrew Phang and Chao Hick Tin.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon did feel that MINDEF is entitled to act as a "person" in this scenario, though, and so issued a separate judgement:

Photo from Choo Zheng Xi's Facebook post Photo from Choo Zheng Xi's Facebook post

But in the case of a split judgement, the ruling goes in favour of the majority.

And this means TOC's article can stay up as-is.

Choo announced this in a Facebook post, which you can read here:

Top photo from Ting Choon Meng's Facebook page