M Ravi’s submissions

May 21, 2008
Singapore Democrats

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Defendant’s submissions on striking out application

1. These submissions are filed on behalf of the First Defendant in Summons Nos. 1574 of 2008/A and 1574/2008/W in Suit 261 of 2006/L and Suit 262 of 2006/Q respectively.

2. The Plaintiffs have applied to strike out the Second and Third Defendants’ AEICs (“AEICs”) on the grounds that the contents of the AEICs are allegedly inadmissible, irrelevant and/or scandalous.

Relevance

3. The AEICs clearly touch on the following facts in issue:

(a) the Plaintiffs’ bad reputation; and
(b) the contextual background in which the defamatory publication came to be made.

4. The Plaintiffs appear to have misunderstood the thrust of the AEICs. The Defendants simply contend that:

(a) the Plaintiffs have a bad reputation;
(b) in claiming to have a good reputation, the Plaintiffs seek to rely only on evidence from the local mainstream media; and
(c) the local mainstream media does not have a high probative value in this respect because it is generally biased and controlled by the Plaintiffs.

5. The AEICs, including the AEIC of Mr Francis Seow, are themselves general evidence of the Plaintiffs’ reputations. The value of such evidence is a matter for the Court in the assessment of damages. The fact that the Defendants have not adduced any other evidence does not make the evidence that has been provided ‘irrelevant’.

6. The issue of the Plaintiffs’ reputations in respect of freedom of speech and the electoral system is relevant insofar as it discredits the Plaintiffs’ evidence as to their allegedly ‘good’ reputations. Such evidence is the product of a corrupted media and has little probative value.

7. The AEICs are evidence as to the Plaintiffs’ bad reputations. Whether those reputations are justified is a separate issue. The AEICs do not, and should not, concern themselves with the truth of those reputations.

8. The Plaintiffs are making an elementary mistake by attempting to hold the Defendants to this higher standard (“CSJ does not even say what those views are. Even if he did, it would be inadmissible as hearsay”). The hearsay rule does not render evidence inadmissible if it simply goes to the fact that something was said by a third party.

9. The AEICs refer to particular acts by the Plaintiffs in order to establish the contextual background in which the defamatory statements were made. The contextual background is relevant to the assessment of damages: Burnstein v Times Newspapers Ltd [2001] 1 WLR 579; Turner v News Group Newspapers Ltd and another [2006] 1 WLR 3469.

10. The Plaintiffs resent opposition, are dictatorial, and are publicly and bitterly ill-disposed towards the Defendants. This forms the contextual background to the defamatory statements, which were made in the course of an election campaign. The AEICs touch on political matters because such matters are an inextricable part of the contextual background.

11. In Associated Newspapers v Dingle (1962) 2 WLR 229 it was held that, in order to show that a man has a bad reputation, it is preferable to call those who know him and have had dealings with him. Mr Francis Seow is a former Solicitor-General of Singapore who had close dealings with the Second Plaintiff over many years.

12. Mr Seow’s affidavit goes to the issue of how the Plaintiffs have devised a political system to advance the interest of its elites. This is relevant to the contextual background and is also evidence that the Plaintiffs have bad reputations in this respect.

13. Evidence from persons who do not know the Plaintiff and have not had dealings with him. In Associated Newspapers v Diogle (1962) 2 WLR, in order to show him that a man has a bad reputation, you should call those who know him and have had dealings with him.

Francis Seow is a former Solicitor General who had dealings with the second Plaintiff.

14. The Plaintiffs say at paragraph 28 (b) (i) and (ii) that what Seow is saying is that the Plaintiffs’ reputations are good, not that they are bad. The Plaintiffs concede that so long as Seow gives evidence of bad reputation, such evidence is admissible. It is strange that the Plaintiffs see Seow’s affidavit as an affirmation of Plaintiffs’ good reputation. However bad reputation is relevant to the assessment of damages.

15. 28 (b) (iii)

This goes to the issue how the Plaintiffs have devised a political system to advance the interest of its elites. This statement must be seen in the context in which the statements in which the defamatory statements were made.

16. 28 (b) (iv) (v) & (vi)

Again this goes to general evidence of bad reputation. The defamation law invariably involves freedom of expression.

17. The Plaintiffs are labouring under an illusion that they are living in an era where there is no existence of the internet as a viable source of free media. It is true that the previous defamation suits were won at a time when internet was at its infant stage.

18. The internet encompasses free expression of opinions and its assessment of the Plaintiffs’ reputation cannot be dismissed by the courts just because they are adverse to the government and its members. In fact, the internet would give a less biased picture of the Plaintiffs’ reputation than the government controlled media.

AEICs are not scandalous

19. The Plaintiffs have failed to provide any evidence that the contentions made in the AEICs are wholly baseless, unnecessary or offensive. They have merely asserted this to be the case.

20. For the reasons described above, the matters raised in the AEICs are relevant to the assessment of damages. Evidence will only be scandalous if it is ‘unnecessary’: Dato Aw Kow v Haw Par Bros (Pte) Ltd & Anor [1972-1974] SLR 391. Accordingly, there is no basis on which to strike out the AEICs on this ground.

AEIC of Chee Soon Juan

21. Reference is made to 3rd Defendants’ affidavit sworn on 16 November 2007 filed herein on behalf of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd Defendants herein.

22. Reference is also made to affidavit of the 3rd Defendants’ verifying list of documents filed herein.

23. In particular reference is made to schedule 1 part 2 containing a list of 66 documentary sources of matters bearing upon as the context in which the defamatory statements were made and article on Democrat.

24. The extent to which the good reputation of the Plaintiffs is attributable to the state control of the media in Singapore(item 49), the validity of the political credo of the Plaintiffs that is whether the belief of the Plaintiffs’ that the defamatory ‘allegations undermine their ability to govern is sustainable.’

25. Sociological impact of the invocation of the law of defamation upon freedom of expression for e.g. item 57

26. The provocation of the defamation – for example the 2nd Plaintiff’s description of the 3rd Defendant as a ‘political gangster’ – item 15 (issue of provocation)

27. The extent to which representative democracy requires transparency with GIC accounts – item 35 – item 39 and particular reference to public disclosure of accounts of public bodies and or other information to which the government has unique access which is of public interest.

28. The extent to which the defamatory allegation of the perpetuation of a corrupt political system for the benefit of the political elite is provoked by the record breaking level of ministerial pay in Singapore. In a society where the average level of pay measured in hundreds of dollars, any allegation of a corrupt political system must be viewed as an attempt to make sense of this disproportionality.

29. “The publicly expressed concerns of Amnesty International after concerns by Amnesty International that “the government of Singapore is using defamation suits against political opponents to challenge their right to freely hold and peacefully express their convictions (item 57). The intended (and expected) effect of these suits, it is believed, has been to inhibit the public activities of opposition politicians; whether “Singapore’s leaders have implemented a course of action that combines libel actions with restrictions upon circulation to lay siege to the financial base of international media owners.” – Item 53.

30. The above matters are also relevant to the issue of assessment of damages in as much as they show that the accusation of use or abuse of defamation laws suing political opponents, although held by the learned Judge in this case as defamatory, must be seen in the context of world opinion as expressed by NGOs and renowned scholars.

31. It is highly significant that neither Amnesty International nor the authors nor the book publishers appear to have been sued by Plaintiffs or any other member of Singapore government for defamation for the above statements which make allegations similar to if not stronger than those of the Defendants in this case of the use, or rather abuse of defamation laws and of suing political opponents. It suggests: all these allegations are institutional directed towards modalities of the political system in Singapore and are not adhominem. The damage must reflect the damage to the reputation.

Conclusion

32. The Plaintiffs have failed to show that the AEICs are inadmissible, irrelevant or scandalous.

33. Even if parts of the AEICs are irrelevant, inadmissible or scandalous (which is denied) there is no reason why such parts could not be identified and struck out while leaving the remainder of the AEICs intact.

34. For the reasons outlined above, the Defendants urge this Court to reject the Plaintiffs’ submissions as a desperate attempt to cripple the Defendants’ case and to advance the Plaintiffs’ political credo through the courts.

Dated this 22nd of May 2008