Singapore court rejects FEER application for British counsel

04 June 07

The Singapore High Court has rejected the Far Eastern Economic Review’s application to use a British Queen’s Counsel to represent the magazine in a high profile defamation case, court documents obtained Monday showed.

Judge Tan Lee Meng ruled the defamation suit filed against FEER by Singapore’s top leaders was “not sufficiently difficult and complex” and would not require the services of a Queen’s Counsel.

The Hong Kong-based magazine has said in its affidavit it needed libel specialist Gavin Millar because of the complex nature of its defence in a suit filed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his father, former premier Lee Kuan Yew.

“As the issues in the libel suits are not sufficiently difficult and complex and can be handled by local counsel… the application to admit Mr Millar on an ad hoc basis to represent the defendants in the libel suits is dismissed,” Tan said in the documents. He made his ruling on Friday.

Millar is a Queen’s Counsel who specialises in defending libel claims and has successfully argued several high-profile cases in Britain.

The Lees sued the magazine’s editor Hugo Restall and Hong Kong-based Review Publishing, its owners, alleging defamation in an article based on an interview with pro-democracy activist Chee Soon Juan.

The article entitled “Singapore ‘Martyr’, Chee Soon Juan” described the Singapore Democratic Party secretary-general’s battle against the ruling People’s Action Party and its leaders.

In the article, Restall also touched on Singapore officials’ success in libel suits against critics.

Peter Low, FEER’s local lawyer, told AFP the magazine had not decided if it would appeal against the court’s decision.

“They have one month to decide… they have to decide if they want to appeal,” said Low.

Singaporean leaders have won hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages in defamation cases against critics and foreign publications, which they say are necessary to protect their reputations from unfounded attacks.

The city-state banned distribution of the magazine in September, saying it had failed to comply with media regulations

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