Lee Hsien Loong v Leong Sze Hian

CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
JudgeAedit Abdullah J
Judgment Date24 March 2021
Docket NumberSuit No 1185 of 2018

[2021] SGHC 66

General Division of the High Court

Aedit Abdullah J

Suit No 1185 of 2018

Lee Hsien Loong
Leong Sze Hian

Davinder Singh s/o Amar Singh SC, Lin Xianyang Timothy, Fong Cheng Yee David, Darveenia Rajula RajahandShannon Valencia Peh (Davinder Singh Chambers LLC) for the plaintiff;

Lim Tean (Carson Law Chambers) for the defendant.

Case(s) referred to

ACB v Thomson Medical Pte Ltd [2017] 1 SLR 918 (folld)

Arul Chandran v Chew Chin Aik Victor [2001] 1 SLR(R) 86; [2001] 1 SLR 505 (folld)

Bailey v Bottrill (No 2) [2019] ACTSC 167 (refd)

Bank of China v Asiaweek Ltd [1991] 1 SLR(R) 230; [1991] SLR 486 (refd)

Bansal Hemant Govindprasad v Central Bank of India [2003] 2 SLR(R) 33; [2003] 2 SLR 33 (refd)

Bolton v Stoltenberg [2018] NSWSC 1518 (refd)

Broome v Cassell and Co Ltd [1972] AC 1027 (refd)

Caine v Advertiser and Times Ltd [2019] EWHC 2278 (QB) (refd)

Chan Boon Siang v Jasmin Nisban [2018] 3 SLR 498 (refd)

Charleston v News Group Newspapers Ltd [1995] 2 AC 65 (refd)

Chase v News Group Newspapers Ltd [2002] EWCA Civ 1772 (refd)

Cheah Cheng Hoc v Liew Yew Tiam [2000] 6 MLJ 204 (refd)

Collins Stewart Ltd v The Financial Times Ltd [2006] EMLR 5 (refd)

Crookes v Newton [2011] 3 SCR 269 (not folld)

Daniel Poulter v Times Newspapers Ltd [2018] EWHC 3900 (QB) (refd)

Derbyshire v Times Newspapers Ltd [1993] AC 534 (distd)

Golden Season Pte Ltd v Kairos Singapore Holdings Pte Ltd [2015] 2 SLR 751 (folld)

Goh Chok Tong v Jeyaretnam Joshua Benjamin [1997] 3 SLR(R) 46; [1998] 1 SLR 547, HC (refd)

Goh Chok Tong v Jeyaretnam Joshua Benjamin [1998] 2 SLR(R) 971; [1998] 3 SLR 337, CA (refd)

Gordon Berkeley Jones v Clement John Skelton [1963] 1 WLR 1362 (refd)

Jameel (Yousef) v Dow Jones & Co Inc [2005] QB 946 (distd)

Jeyaretnam Joshua Benjamin v Lee Kuan Yew [1979–1980] SLR(R) 255; [1978–1979] SLR 197, CA (refd)

Jeyaretnam Joshua Benjamin v Lee Kuan Yew [1990] 1 SLR(R) 337; [1990] SLR 38, CA (refd)

Jeyaretnam Joshua Benjamin v Lee Kuan Yew [1992] 1 SLR(R) 791; [1992] 2 SLR 310, CA (refd)

Koh Sin Chong Freddie v Chan Cheng Wah Bernard [2013] 4 SLR 629 (folld)

L K Ang Construction Pte Ltd v Chubb Singapore Pte Ltd [2003] 1 SLR(R) 635; [2003] 1 SLR 635 (refd)

Lait v Evening Standard Ltd [2011] 1 WLR 2973 (refd)

Lee Hsien Loong v Leong Sze Hian [2019] SGHC 66 (refd)

Lee Hsien Loong v Ngerng Yi Ling Roy [2016] 1 SLR 1321, HC (refd)

Lee Hsien Loong v Roy Ngerng Yi Ling [2014] SGHC 230 (refd)

Lee Hsien Loong v Singapore Democratic Party [2007] 1 SLR(R) 675; [2007] 1 SLR 675, HC (refd)

Lee Hsien Loong v Singapore Democratic Party [2009] 1 SLR(R) 642; [2009] 1 SLR 642, HC (folld)

Lee Kuan Yew v Davies Derek Gwyn [1989] 2 SLR(R) 544; [1989] SLR 1063 (refd)

Lee Kuan Yew v Jeyaretnam Joshua Benjamin [1979–1980] SLR(R) 24; [1978–1979] SLR 429 (refd)

Lee Kuan Yew v Seow Khee Leng [1988] 2 SLR(R) 252; [1988] SLR 832 (refd)

Lee Kuan Yew v Tang Liang Hong [1997] 2 SLR(R) 81; [1997] 3 SLR 91 (refd)

Lee Kuan Yew v Vinocur John [1995] 3 SLR(R) 38; [1995] 3 SLR 477 (folld)

Lena Leowardi v Yeap Cheen Soo [2015] 1 SLR 581 (refd)

Lim Eng Hock Peter v Lin Jian Wei [2009] 2 SLR(R) 1004; [2009] 2 SLR 1004, HC (refd)

Lim Eng Hock Peter v Lin Jian Wei [2010] 4 SLR 357, CA (refd)

Low Tuck Kwong v Sukamto Sia [2014] 1 SLR 639 (refd)

Ma Hongjin v SCP Holdings Pte Ltd [2021] 1 SLR 304 (folld)

Magyar Jeti Zrt v Hungary [2018] 12 WLUK 615 (refd)

Maidstone Pte Ltd v Takenaka Corp [1992] 1 SLR(R) 752; [1992] 1 SLR 772 (refd)

Mangena v Edward Lloyd Ltd (1908) LT 640 (refd)

Ng Koo Kay Benedict v Zim Integrated Shipping Services Ltd [2010] 2 SLR 860 (refd)

Pritchard v Van Nes [2016] BCJ No 781 (refd)

Qingdao Bohai Construction Group Co, Ltd v Goh Teck Beng [2016] 4 SLR 977 (folld)

Relfo Ltd v Bhimji Velji Jadva Varsani [2008] 4 SLR(R) 657; [2008] 4 SLR 657 (refd)

Review Publishing Co Ltd v Lee Hsien Loong [2010] 1 SLR 52 (folld)

Reynolds v Times Newspapers Ltd [2001] 2 AC 127 (refd)

Rubber Improvement Ltd v Daily Telegraph Ltd [1964] AC 234 (refd)

Sim v Stretch [1936] 2 All ER 1237 (folld)

Slim v Daily Telegraph Ltd [1968] 2 QB 157 (refd)

Stocker v Stocker [2020] AC 593 (refd)

Stoltenberg v Bolton [2020] NSWCA 45 (refd)

Swansson v R A Pratt Properties Pty Ltd [2002] 42 ACSR 313 (refd)

Tan Juay Pah v Kimly Construction Pte Ltd [2012] 2 SLR 549 (refd)

Tang Liang Hong v Lee Kuan Yew [1997] 3 SLR(R) 576; [1998] 1 SLR 97 (refd)

The Gleaner Co Ltd v Abrahams [2004] 1 AC 628 (refd)

Thio Keng Poon v Thio Syn Pyn [2010] 3 SLR 143 (refd)

Wilson v Secretary of State for Trade and Industry [2004] 1 AC 816 (refd)

Wisniewski v Central Manchester Health Authority [1998] PIQR P324 (refd)

Yan Jun v AG [2015] 1 SLR 752 (refd)

Zainal bin Hashim v Government of Malaysia [1980] AC 734 (refd)

Legislation referred to

Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (1985 Rev Ed, 1999 Reprint) Art 14, Art 14(1)(a), Art 14(2)(a)

Defamation Act (Cap 75, 2014 Rev Ed)

Penal Code (Cap 224, 2008 Rev Ed) ss 499–502

Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act 2019 (Act 18 of 2019)

Rules of Court (2014 Rev Ed) O 18 r 19

Civil Procedure Rules 1998 (SI 1998 No 3132) (UK)

Constitution Act 1982 (Can) Pt 1, Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Human Rights Act 1998 (c 42) (UK)

Tort — Defamation — Damages — Principles applicable to determination of appropriate damages — Factors warranting uplift to quantum of damages identified — Burden of proof in showing extent and reach of publication through online posting of Facebook post — Principles applicable to determining damages for defamatory content posted online

Tort — Defamation — Publication — Publication of Facebook post (“Facebook Post”) consisting of hyperlink linking to separate article — Whether separate article could be said to have been published or republished by person who posted Facebook Post — Application of doctrine in Jameel v Dow Jones & Co Inc[2005] QB 946 — Application of rule in Derbyshire v Times Newspapers Ltd[1993] AC 534 — Determining whether there had been abuse of process in claim for defamation — Relevance of collateral purpose(s), if any


On or around 7 November 2018, an article titled “Breaking News: Singapore Lee Hsien Loong Becomes 1MDB's Key Investigation Target – Najib Signed Several Unfair Agreements with Hsien Loong In Exchange For Money Laundering” (the “Article”) was published on a website titled “The Coverage”. “The Coverage” described itself as a Malaysia-based social news network. The Article stated, inter alia, that ongoing Malaysian investigations concerning Malaysia's 1Malaysia Development Bhd (“1MDB”) fund were “trying to find the secret deals between the two corrupted Prime Ministers of Singapore and Malaysia”. It was not in contention that this referred to the plaintiff and former Malaysian Prime Minister Mr Najib Razak. The Article also referenced several “unfair agreements” that Mr Najib Razak had entered into with the plaintiff, including the agreement to build the Singapore-Malaysia High Speed Rail, and included other details about the alleged investigations.

At around 6.16pm on 7 November 2018, the defendant shared a link to the Article in a post on his Facebook “Timeline” (the “Post”). The defendant did not include any accompanying text or commentary in the Post, which simply indicated that the defendant had shared a link, with part of the Article's title and an image from the Article being displayed. The plaintiff identified the words of the Article's title which were displayed in the Post as the “Offending Words in the Post”, while the words in the Article, including the title, were described in the plaintiff's pleadings as the “Offending Words in the Article” (collectively, the “defamatory words”).

By 10.16pm on 7 November 2018, the defendant's Post had attracted 22 “reactions”, five “comments”, and 18 “shares”. The Post had been made on the “Public” setting, meaning that other Facebook users apart from the defendant's “friends” on Facebook would be able to view it.

The defendant removed the Post from his Facebook page at about 7.30am on 10 November 2018, after he read a notice from the Info-communications Media Development Authority (“IMDA”) that had been sent to him at around 11.00pm on 9 November 2018. Thereafter, various media outlets and public figures/entities sought to refute the Article over 8 and 9 November 2018. On 20 November 2018, the plaintiff commenced the instant suit.

The matter proceeded to trial, where, at the close of the plaintiff's case, the defendant made a submission of no case to answer.

Held, allowing the claim:

(1) A defendant who elected to make a submission of no case to answer had to make an accompanying election not to call evidence in the event that submission failed. The defendant here had so elected. Following from that, the plaintiff would succeed so long as he was able to establish a prima facie case on each of the essential elements of his claim. It was only if: (a) the plaintiff's evidence, at face value, did not establish a case in law, or (b) the evidence led by the plaintiff was so unsatisfactory or unreliable that his burden of proof had not been discharged that a submission of no case to answer by a defendant would succeed: at [19] and [20].

(2) An adverse inference could generally be properly drawn if there was something in the evidence that effectively demanded an answer or response from the defendant, such as where the evidence all pointed to him and it was apparent that things could be made clear simply through his evidence coming in. It would otherwise be rare for an adverse inference to be drawn. An adverse inference did not automatically arise simply because of a submission that there was no case to answer, and could not be drawn on the present facts: at [23].

(3) The ordinary reasonable person would possess general knowledge that there was wrongdoing in the affairs of 1MDB, and the phrase “Lee Hsien Loong becomes 1 MDB's key investigation target” clearly...

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3 cases
  • Kanagavijayan Nadarajan t/a Kana & Co v Tham Sit Mooi
    • Singapore
    • Magistrates' Court (Singapore)
    • 26 April 2022
    ...they serve to vindicate his reputation: Lim Eng Hock Peter v Lin Jian Wei [2010] 4 SLR 357 at [3]-[6]; Lee Hsien Loong v Leong Sze Hian [2021] 4 SLR 1128 at [84]. Aggravated damages are awarded when the defendant’s conduct aggravated the hurt to the plaintiff’s feelings. In determining the ......
  • Tan Li-Ching Olivia (Chen Lijing Olivia) v Lek Wee Tong
    • Singapore
    • District Court (Singapore)
    • 17 August 2021
    ...to address in further submissions the following two issues: First, whether following the decision in Lee Hsien Loong v Leong Sze Hian [2021] SGHC 66 (“LHL”), the court should in determining the extent of publication of a defamatory statement made on Facebook take into account only publicati......
  • Rakesh Rai s/o Juginthrenat v Muhammad Danial Omar and another
    • Singapore
    • District Court (Singapore)
    • 17 October 2022
    ...on the plaintiff to adduce relevant evidence to prove the extent of the defamatory publications. See Lee Hsien Loong v Leong Sze Hian [2021] 4 SLR 1128 at [92] and [93], where the High Court had observed that there was no evidence that the defamatory post had gone viral, ie accumulating sev......
2 books & journal articles
  • Tort Law
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Annual Review Nbr. 2021, December 2021
    • 1 December 2021
    ...was principal-guaranteed. Chua Lee Ming J allowed the claims against both defendants in misrepresentation and conspiracy to injure. 82 [2021] 4 SLR 1128. 83 Lee Hsien Loong v Leong Sze Hian [2021] 4 SLR 1128 at [5]. 84 Act 18 of 2019. 85 This would be consistent with the rule that the ordin......
  • Administrative and Constitutional Law
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Annual Review Nbr. 2021, December 2021
    • 1 December 2021
    ...v Public Prosecutor [2021] SGHC 269 at [23]. 6 [2021] SGHC 269. 7 Kanesan s/o Ramasamy v Public Prosecutor [2021] SGHC 269 at [23]. 8 [2021] 4 SLR 1128 at [49]–[50]. 9 Lee Hsien Loong v Leong Sze Hian [2021] 4 SLR 1128 at [48]. 10 [2022] 3 SLR 639 at [42]. 11 [2015] 5 SLR 1222 at [36]. 12 [......

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