IN THE COURT OF APPEAL OF THE REPUBLIC OF SINGAPORE


Civil Appeal No. 64 of 1997


Between

TANG LIANG HONG
(NRIC No. S1096110/F)


... Appellant
 

And

 
1. LEE KUAN YEW
(NRIC No. S0000003/E)

2. LEE HSIEN LOONG
(NRIC No. S0016646/D)

... Respondents

In the Matter of Summons-in-Chambers Entered No. 1536 of

1997 in Suit No. 1116 of 1996

 

Between

 

1. LEE KUAN YEW
(NRIC No. S0000003/E)

2. LEE HSIEN LOONG
(NRIC No. S0016646/D)

... Plaintiffs 

And

1. TANG LIANG HONG
(NRIC No. S1096110/F)

2. YAU LOOP POON
(ID No. not known)

3. MING PAO MAGAZINES LIMITED
(HONG KONG RC No. 175907)

4. DAI NIPPON PRINTING COMPANY (HK) LTD.
(HONG KONG RC No. 10077)

5. TEO SIEW HAR
(NRIC No. S0531156/Z)

... Defendants

 

 STATEMENT OF CASE FOR THE APPELLANT

 

1. Nature of the appeals

In this appeal the above-named Appellant in Suit No. 1116 of 1996, Tang Liang Hong ("Mr. Tang") appeals :

 
2. The issues in Suit No. 1116 of 1996


2.1 For the purpose of this appeal, the Appellant adopts and repeats paragraph 2 of the Statement of his case in Civil Appeal No. 63 of 1997 to which the present appeal is closely linked.


3. The background


3.1 The Appellant also adopts and repeats paragraph 3 of the Statement of his appeal in Civil Appeal No.63 of 1997, which is relevant also to the present appeal.


4. Appeal against the Order striking out the Defence


4.1 The Defence served on behalf of Mr. Tang, as amended, raised serious issues to be tried as to


4.2 Prior to March 1997 no attempts was made to strike out any part of the defence. Nor was any application made, prior to 27 January 1997 for a Mareva injunction or for the appointment of a receiver. The trial was anticipated to take place in or about March 1997.

4.3 Yet on 10 March 1997 Goh Joon Seng J struck out the Defence on the sole ground that Mr. Tang had failed to comply with the terms of Orders of 27 January and 17 February 1997 ( a Mareva injunction and an order appointing a receiver). The entire ration decidendi is contained in paragraph 20 of the judgment.

4.4 It is accepted that Mr. Tang had not complied with the terms of those two orders, which were made by Lai Kew Chai J. But those orders were void or alternatively were voidable at the option of Mr. Tang. On this account the defence of Mr. Tang should not have been struck out and the case should have been permitted to proceed to trial.

4.5 The reason why the said orders of Lai Kew Chai J were void or voidable is that, for the reasons set out in paragraph 4 of the Statement of Case for the Appellants in Civil Appeal No. 63 of 1997, the judge should have recused himself.

4.6 Once the Judge had recused himself or removed by an appellate court or a court of equivalent jurisdiction, the consequences in law is that any antecedent orders or judgments of the Judge are either automatically void or voidable at the option of Mr. Tang (the distinction is for present purposes immaterial) :

Dimes vs. Grand Junction Canal Proprietors (1852) 3 HL Cas 759 at 786 ;

Philips vs. Eyre (1870) LR 6 QB 1 at 22 ;

Allinson vs. General Council of Medical Education (1894) 1 QB 750 at 755


4.7 The invalidity of a decision or judgment by a Judge tainted by the appearance of bias is analogous to the invalidity of a decision made ultra vires or judgment following proceedings vitiated by a breach of natural justice (eg. failure to observe the principle audi alterem partem) :

Halsbury’s Laws 4th Edition paragraphs 26 and 100.

Natural justice and fairness require that litigants have their cases tried by judges who are free from the appearance of bias :

O’Reilly vs. Mackman (1983) 2 AC 237 at 276


4.8 There is no such thing as a technical breach of the rules of natural justice. The mere risk of prejudice to the litigant will suffice to entitle him to avoid the impugned decision or judgment :

Kanda vs. Government of Federation of Malaya (1962) AC 322 at 337


4.9 Accordingly there was no basis for the Judge’s decision to strike out the Defence. For the avoidance of doubt it is the case of the Appellant that Lai Kew Chai J was wholly wrong in principle to have granted worldwide Mareva injunctions against Mr. Tang before any judgment had been obtained and he was particularly wrong to have done so in Suit No. 1116 of 1996.


5. Appeal against the assessment of damages

5.1 The words allegedly spoken by Mr. Tang (and so the only words for which he can be held responsible in law) are pleaded in paragraph 6 of the Statement of Claim. Those 40 odd words, spoken off the cuff in response to a reporter’s enquiry, are relatively innocuous and barely defamatory of the Plaintiffs. They were spoken in relation to a matter of indubitable public interest and debate.

5.2 The damages assessment hearing in Suit No. 1116 of 1996 took place in the following circumstances : the hearing took place as part of several assessment hearings in other actions which came on for trial with unparalleled rapidity. Mr. Tang was severely prejudiced in his ability to prepare his case. He wished to be represented at the hearing by English Queen’s Counsel versed in defamation law. Accordingly he applied for an adjournment of the hearing date of 5 May 1997 ( of which short notice had been given) so as to enable his counsel to appear. The solicitor then acting for Mr. Tang, Major Peter Cuthbert Low, told the Judge he lacked the experience and knowledge to represent Mr. Tang effectively. The application was refused by the Judge.

5.3 This unfairness to Mr. Tang was compounded by the fact that, because the proceedings had been called on with such unprecedented speed, the voluminous trial bundles, running to thousands of pages, were not served by the Plaintiffs’ numerous firms of lawyers until the first day of the hearings, namely 5 May 1997.

5.4 In consequence of the foregoing, Mr. Tang was effectively unrepresented at the hearings which potentially (and in the event) involved a huge exposure in terms of damages and costs.

5.5 The Judge’s analysis of the evidence admissible on the quantum of damages is deeply flawed both by inclusion of inadmissible material and the omission of material facts. Thus the Judge omitted to mention

(i) the modest circulation and influence of the magazine in question;

(ii) the mitigating fact that a handsome apology had been published and therefore communicated to those who read the original libel;

(iii) the fact that the Plaintiffs are politicians and therefore should be used to public criticisms and well able to defend themselves through the media;

(iv) the preposterously high level of the awards of damages in the parallel suits, which (apart from their punitive effect on Mr. Tang meant that the present Plaintiffs are being grossly over-compensated).


5.6 Plaintiffs in defamation actions are required to plead any matters sought to be relied on in aggravation of damages. In paragraph 97, 98, 99, 101 and 102 the Judge prayed in aid matters which had not been pleaded. The last two sentences of paragraph 101 contain a non-sequitur.

5.7 The judgment contains a serious error of principle: although the Judge made passing reference in paragraph 21 to the fact that the other Defendants had settled the Plaintiffs’ claim against them on payment of S$900,000 damages, when he comes to assess the damages of Mr. Tang, the Judge does not (at least expressly) give credit or otherwise allow for the fact of the recovery from the other Defendants. In accordance with principle and with section 16 of the Defamation Act, the Judge should have found that the Plaintiffs had been fully compensated by the damages paid under the settlement agreement with the other Defendants.

5.8 Further the Judge’s summary of the law regarding the quantification of damages in defamation in paragraphs 75 to 84 is gravely deficient with the result that he misdirected himself and awarded damages on an entirely erroneous basis.

5.9 The judge wholly ignores the guidance given by appellate courts in England and Australia as to the assessment of damages in the following cases in particular :

Rantsen vs. Mirror Group (1994) QB 670

Carson v. John Fairfax (1993) 67 AJLR 634 and

John v. MGN (1996) 2 All ER 35

These cases all stress the vital importance that awards in defamation cases bear a rational relationship with awards in other fields (eg. personal injuries) and the danger that disproportionately high awards interfere with constitutional rights to freedom of expression. All earlier authorities have to be read in the light of these guideline cases.


5.10 The Judge awarded the Senior Minister S$550,000 in addition to the S$450,000 already paid by the other Defendants and he awarded the Deputy Prime Minister S$500,000 in addition to the S$450,000 already paid to him. These awards are unjust, grossly excessive and out of all proportion to the harm done to the Plaintiffs by the words spoken by Mr. Tang.

5.11 It is submitted that the awards should be set aside.

 

Signed on behalf of the Appellant )

 

 

IN THE COURT OF APPEAL OF THE REPUBLIC OF SINGAPORE


Civil Appeal No. 64 of 1997


Between

 
TANG LIANG HONG
(NRIC No. S1096110/F)

... Appellant
 

And
 

1. LEE KUAN YEW
(NRIC No. S0000003/E)

2. LEE HSIEN LOONG
(NRIC No. S0016646/D)

... Respondents

 
In the Matter of Summons-in-Chambers Entered No. 1536 of 1997 in Suit No. 1116 of 1996 


Between


1. LEE KUAN YEW
(NRIC No. S0000003/E)

2. LEE HSIEN LOONG
(NRIC No. S0016646/D)

... Plaintiffs
 

And

1. TANG LIANG HONG
(NRIC No. S1096110/F)

2. YAU LOOP POON
(ID No. not known)

3. MING PAO MAGAZINES LIMITED
(HONG KONG RC No. 175907)

4. DAI NIPPON PRINTING COMPANY (HK) LTD.
(HONG KONG RC No. 10077)

5. TEO SIEW HAR
(NRIC No. S0531156/Z)

... Defendants

 
__________________________________________________
 

STATEMENT OF CASE FOR THE APPELLANT

__________________________________________________

TANG LIANG HONG

1 COLOMBO COURT

#09-22

SINGAPORE 179742

TEL : (65) 3372371

FAX: (65) 3372035

  

Filed this day of July, 1997.