Shanmugam & Vivian to serve defamation papers on Lee Hsien Yang via Facebook Messenger

Not practical to do so personally, their lawyers argued.

Belmont Lay | September 08, 2023, 01:09 PM

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Cabinet ministers K Shanmugam and Vivian Balakrishnan have applied to serve court papers on Lee Hsien Yang by Facebook Messenger, CNA reported.

The ministers are seeking a court order that the papers are deemed to have been served once the documents in portable document format, or PDF, have been sent through Facebook Messenger to Lee’s profile page, The Straits Times reported.

The two ministers are separately suing Lee for defamation.

This was after Lee made comments relating to the rental of two bungalows in Ridout Road by the two ministers.

Lawyers from Davinder Singh Chambers, acting for the two ministers, made the application to use Facebook Messenger as a "substituted service" to serve the court papers and bring it to the notice of the defendant, ST reported.

The application was made on the grounds that it was impractical to personally serve Lee the papers as he was in the United Kingdom, CNA reported.

Court papers can be served electronically, even via forums, the High Court had ruled in 2016, ST reported.

Background: Timeline

July 23

On July 23, Lee wrote on his Facebook account, among other things, that “two ministers have leased state-owned mansions from the agency that one of them controls, felling trees and getting state-sponsored renovations”.

July 27

On July 27, Shanmugam said in a Facebook post that Lee had accused him and Balakrishnan of "acting corruptly and for personal gain by having Singapore Land Authority (SLA) give us preferential treatment by illegally felling trees without approval, and also having SLA pay for renovations to 26 and 31 Ridout Road".

Both Cabinet ministers sent lawyers' letters to Lee on July 27.

They said they would sue unless Lee apologised, withdrew his allegations and paid S$25,000 in damages that would be donated to charity, according to The Straits Times.

The letter also demanded that Lee post a public apology on his Facebook page for four weeks.

Lee did not comply with the demands.

July 29

On July 29, Lee said on Facebook that he was simply stating facts and added that the two ministers should sue him in Britain, as he was in Britain at the time.

Aug. 2

On Aug. 2, the two ministers filed separate defamation suits in the High Court against Lee.

According to The Straits Times, the quantum of damages they seek were not specified in their statement of claims.

The High Court usually deals with cases where the amount claimed exceeds S$250,000.

Lawyers sent a letter to Lee via Facebook Messenger that day, informing him that defamation proceedings had commenced against him in the Singapore courts.

Aug. 14

On Aug. 14, the ministers’ lawyers applied to the court for permission to serve the papers on Lee in the United Kingdom.

Their affidavits, dated Aug. 14, said Lee's post have caused the ministers to be "gravely injured in (their) character and reputation, and have been brought into public scandal, odium and contempt", and they have suffered loss and damage.

Both gave reasons why the case should be heard in Singapore: The plaintiffs were ministers and in Singapore and that the offending words refer to events in Singapore.

Aug. 16

On Aug. 16, the two ministers were granted permission to serve the papers out of jurisdiction on Lee.

Lee was to file a document to indicate whether he intended to contest the claim within 21 days after the papers were served on him, the court order stated.

Aug. 28

On Aug. 28, the ministers’ lawyers filed the application for substituted service by Facebook Messenger.

The suit was scheduled for a case conference on Sep. 5, 2023.

If, upon receiving the papers, Lee does not respond within a stipulated timeframe, the claimants can apply for the courts to enter a default judgment, meaning they would be successful in their claims by default.

Lee is the brother of Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and the younger son of Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's first prime minister.

Lee and his wife Lee Suet Fern left Singapore after declining to attend a police interview in July 2022 over a separate matter.

Top photo via Overseas Singaporean YouTube & Lee Hsien Yang Facebook