Lawyer-politician Lim Tean to defend blogger Leong Sze Hian against PM Lee's defamation suit

A counter claim has been launched against PM Lee.

Belmont Lay | December 26, 2018, 05:21 PM

Lim Tean, a lawyer and chief of new People's Voice political party, has announced he is representing blogger Leong Sze Hian against the defamation suit brought forth by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Lim made the sudden announcement on Facebook on Dec. 26:

Leong had previously said he would defend himself and was "bewildered" that the prime minister would sue him.

Counterclaim against PM Lee

Lim, in representing Leong, said he is launching a counterclaim against PM Lee for abuse of the process of the court.

Lim wrote that PM Lee does not have a case as it "is not a real and substantial tort".

Referring to Leong's defence, Lim wrote: "He challenges the Prime Minister's case on meaning, on the extent of publication and re-publication and on malice."

Lim, from Carson Law Chambers, also wrote: "I look forward to cross-examining Lee Hsien Loong in Court."

In his Facebook post, Lim published a copy of the Defence and Counterclaim filed, totalling some 19 pages.

Lim's defence is that his client Leong had put up the post for only three days and removed it when the authorities told him to do so.

Moreover, the allegedly defamatory post was shared without additional comment, no other action has been taken against the publishers -- The Coverage or States Times Review -- of the articles, and the government and the people of Singapore were of the opinion that the allegedly defamatory article was false to begin with.

"He does not assert that what the article said or is alleged to have said was true," Lim wrote about his client Leong.

This is the full two-page statement from Lim that was published with the post:

Leong Sze Hian, respected humans rights activist and campaigner, has today lodged his Defence and Counterclaim to the libel action brought by the Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.The action by the Prime Minister has been brought against our client for sharing on his Facebook page, without embellishment or comment, a post linking to an article on The Coverage website for a period of 3 days. No claim has been brought against The Coverage, The States Times Review (which first published the same article), Facebook or any other individual Singaporean resident who took the same action as our client.

In his Defence and Counterclaim, Leong Sze Hian pleads that he only had the post up for 3 days and removed it immediately upon receipt of an order from the IMDA. He challenges the Prime Minister's case on meaning, on the extent of publication and re-publication and on malice.

He does not assert that what the article said or is alleged to have said was true.

He does plead that the claim is on an abuse of the process of the court and relies upon the same argument for his counterclaim based upon the tort of abuse of civil process. Relying upon the English Court of Appeal decision in Jameel v Dow Jones [2005] QB 946, this is because, he will argue, the claim against him in respect of the publication on his Facebook page for 3 days, is not a real and substantial tort. The claim, he will say, is unnecessary to vindicate the Prime Minister's reputation in circumstances where the Prime Minister's Statement of Claim accepts that the people of Singapore generally, which must be taken to include readers of our client's Facebook page, knew that he and the Government were asserting that the article was false in the entire 3-day period it was on our client's Facebook page.

Since that is so, no damage could have been caused in the eyes of any of the very few people who read the post on our client's Facebook page and none is identified. This libel claim, therefore, cannot be said to be necessary. Our client invites the court to find that the initiating and pursuit of an unnecessary claim for libel must, therefore, be in order to try to obtain an impermissible collateral advantage, and believe its purpose is to chill freedom of expression ahead of both the trial of Najib Razak and a likely General Election in Singapore next year.

Lim Tean

What constitutes defamation?

A person could be liable for defamation in Singapore if he or she were to make a defamatory material known to a third party.

In Singapore, the Media Literacy Council (MLC) states that defamatory words published over the internet constitute libel and a civil suit can be filed to sue for defamation.

The three conditions that must be met for action to be taken are that the statement in question must be defamatory, refer to the victim and communicated to a third party.

MLC noted that "repeating untruths started or spread by someone else is still defamation".

After letters of demand were served to Leong at his private residences by PM Lee's lawyers from Drew & Napier on Nov. 12, Leong first comments on the case were aired in a lengthy Facebook post saying he was "bewildered" as to why he was being sued.

Background to this case: