: The Court of Appeal today ruled that Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng cannot sue the media for defamation in his official capacity.
A three-man bench chaired by Datuk Rohana Yusuf allowed the appeals by Perkasa and two mainstream media over Lim's suit in relation to a Perkasa statement that he claimed implied that he was a "Singapore agent".
Justice Rohana said the panel made the ruling as it was bound by its earlier decision in the case of Utusan Melayu (M) Bhd vs Pahang Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob, that public officials could not sue the media for defamation in their official capacity.
She said the court had accepted the principles decided in an English law case, Derbyshire County Council v The Times Newspapers Ltd & Others (1993), which stated that local authorities could not institute libel action in their official capacity.
"On the issue of principle of law in our earlier decision (Utusan vs Adnan), having considered the appeals before us, we hold that the case of Utusan vs Adnan applies in this case," said Justice Rohana, who presided over the appeal with Justices Tan Sri Idrus Harun and Datuk Mary Lim.
The panel made the ruling after allowing the preliminary objections raised by the appellants that the case was similar to the Utusan vs Adnan case.
The same panel had also made the ruling in the Utusan vs Adnan case on March 1 this year. Adnan had sued Utusan Melayu over the publication of an article in Mingguan Malaysia on Nov 9 last year.
In today's case, the appellants were Perkasa Information chief Ruslan Kassim, Perkasa president Datuk Ibrahim Ali and Perkasa, New Straits Times former group editor Datuk Syed Nazri Syed Harun and The New Straits Times Press (M) Sdn Bhd, as well as Utusan Melayu (M) Berhad group editor-in-chief Datuk Abdul Aziz Ishak and Utusan Melayu (M) Berhad.
They had appealed against a High Court ruling on March 26, 2015, which granted Lim's suit against them and ordered them to pay damages totalling RM550,000 after finding that the statement was defamatory of Lim.
The High Court had ordered Ruslan, Ibrahim and Perkasa to pay RM150,000 in general and aggravated damages, and Syed Nazri and NSTP to pay RM200,000, and Abdul Aziz and Utusan Melayu to pay RM200,000 in general and aggravated damages.
However, Justice Rohana said, having heard submissions on the merits in the appeals and having read the written submissions by both parties, the court found the four main issues raised by the defendants (appellants) in grounds of appeal to be devoid of any merit.
"We agreed on the finding of facts made by the trial High Court judge and we have no reason to intervene with her finding of facts that the claim of defamation is sustainable. Thus, we would affirm the finding made by the High Court judge on the liability of defendants (appellants) to him (Lim)," she said.
On the quantum of damages, Justice Rohana said the High Court judge had fallen in error in taking into account aggravated damages in determining the global sum because such damages were never pleaded in the suit.
"Having taken into account the facts of the case, we are of the considered view that the appropriate damages should be as follows," she said. She then reduced the quantum of damages from RM550,000 to RM150,000.
On May 11, 2012, Lim filed the defamatory suit against the seven defendants, claiming that Ruslan had published a statement on Perkasa's website on Oct 1, 2011, asking businessman Datuk Mohamad Azman Yahya to explain his meeting with Datuk Seri Kalimullah Hassan and a PAP senior leader in Singapore on Aug 12, 2011.
Lim claimed that the statement implied that he was endangering national security by exposing the country's secrets to Singapore and had sought for general, exemplary and special damages of RM15 million, as well as interest, costs and other relief deemed fit by the court. -