Straits Times

SEP 25 1997

Judgment reserved in Tang's appeals
By Koh Buck Song

THE three-judge Court of Appeal yesterday reserved judgment in the 14 appeals by Workers' Party candidate Tang Liang Hong after a 2-1/2-day hearing.

Its verdict on whether to uphold the High Court ruling that Mr Tang was guilty of defamation and should pay $8.075 million in damages will be made later.

Closing his case yesterday, Queen's Counsel Charles Gray, representing Mr Tang, said the lawyers for the 11 People's Action Party leaders had failed to "grasp the nettle" of his case.

The damages Mr Tang has to pay were "exorbitant, disproportionate, unjust, grotesque" and "wholly unrealistic", the QC said, giving a breakdown of the amounts awarded in each of the 13 suits. He acknowledged that, in Singapore, previous cases were often used as a yardstick to decide the quantum of damages for defamation.

But he urged the court to note the recent "sea change" in how defamation awards were viewed abroad, to bring them more in line with what plaintiffs got in cases of crippling physical injury.

He also asked Justices M. Karthigesu, L. P. Thean and G. P. Selvam to take into account duplication in the suits against Mr Tang, the prevailing cost of living, the level of earnings of an average person, and the "chilling effect" of huge awards to politicians in inhibiting freedom of expression here.

Mr Gray also argued that:

To think Mr Tang's speech at a 1994 dinner about religious harmony could lead to the sort of ethnic division seen in Rwanda or Bosnia was "really the height of absurdity", the QC said, urging the court to reject the ruling that Mr Tang had defamed the PAP leaders and to reduce the damages awarded.