Lee Kuan Yew v Chee Soon Juan (No 2)

JurisdictionSingapore
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
JudgeKan Ting Chiu J
Judgment Date06 January 2005
Neutral Citation[2005] SGHC 2
Citation[2005] SGHC 2
Plaintiff CounselDavinder Singh SC, Hri Kumar, Nicolas Tang (Drew and Napier LLC)
Defendant CounselThe defendant in person
Published date06 January 2005
Date06 January 2005
Docket NumberSuit No 1459 of 2001
Subject MatterFactors to consider when deciding whether to grant defendant's applications to reconvene hearing and to cross-examine plaintiff and plaintiff's counsel at such reconvened hearing,Assessment of damages,Reconvening hearing,Damages,Defendant alleging plaintiff mishandling nation's funds,Defendant applying to cross-examine plaintiff and plaintiff's counsel in application to reconvene hearing,Defamation,Civil Procedure,Quantification of damages,Defendant applying to reconvene such hearing,Defendant not attending assessment of damages hearing,Tort,Principles of assessment

6 January 2005

Judgment reserved.

Kan Ting Chiu J:

1 This matter came before me for damages to be assessed following a finding that the defendant had defamed the plaintiff.

2 The plaintiff, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, was the Senior Minister of Singapore before he assumed the office of Minister Mentor on 12 August 2004. The defendant, Dr Chee Soon Juan, was and is the Secretary-General of the Singapore Democratic Party.

3 This action arose out of words the defendant said in the course of campaigning in the 2001 Parliamentary General Elections.

The subject words

4 On 28 October 2001, the defendant spoke at an election rally at Nee Soon Central. He told his audience:

Yesterday, Mr Lee Kuan Yew was at his best. When he’s at his best, names, bad names have no problem rolling out of his tongue. He called me all sorts of names. How do I react? I say no problem. No problem. Because the more names you call me, I know the more it is that the PAP has to worry. I challenge the PAP to stop calling me names and talk about the issues. …

And so I challenged Mr Lee Kuan Yew yesterday to answer this one question, why is he not addressing this very important issue that the SDP is campaigning on this election.

So when we met … when we met Goh Chok Tong this morning during our walkabout, he was there just about 3 or 4 feet away, I asked him, “Mr Goh, what happened to our money? What happened to this $17 billion?” He wouldn’t answer. He just waved us on. I am very serious about this. My friends, it is your money, this is your money, no, not the Government’s money, not Goh Chok Tong’s money. It is your money. And when I asked him and he waved us on, it hit me, it hit me very clearly, that the Government will not answer you. The Government can say, “No, I am not interested in answering you, because you are not in Parliament … But if you get Mr Ling How Doong from the SDP into Parliament, this guarantee I give you, the first question that he will ask is what has happened to our $17 billion?

You must be very careful that you don’t give the entire government this free rein to take your money and use it without any opposition keeping it in check. And this is that same question that I want to ask Mr Lee Kuan Yew today. Address this point. I want to ask the media to publish this point. And you see for yourselves tomorrow my friends, see for yourself whether the media is going to publish it or not.

Because this is one very important point in this election. If it will define this campaign for the SDP it is this issue. We want the media, whether it is your broadcast media or your press media to report on this what we’ve just said tonight. Because it makes all the difference. And if they report it, then I want to challenge Mr Lee Kuan Yew, please don’t live in the past, my dear Senior Minister, this is not 1961. He has said that he wants to demolish me. You can’t. Yes, can’t. This is 2001, when we don’t want to talk about demolishing any more. We want to talk about creativity. We want to talk about innovation. We want to talk about debate. That is very important. So Mr Lee Kuan Yew, I challenge you, tell us about this $17 billion you loaned to Suharto.

5 The plaintiff found the portions of that speech in italics (“the subject words”) defamatory.

The retracted apology

6 The plaintiff instructed his solicitors, Drew & Napier LLC, to write to the defendant. On 31 October 2001, they informed the defendant that he had falsely accused the plaintiff of being dishonest and unfit for office because the plaintiff had concealed from or misled Parliament and the public about a $17bn loan made to Indonesia and had continued to evade the issue because he had something discreditable to hide about the transaction.

7 They demanded that he agree to:

(a) publish, at [his] expense, an apology and undertaking in terms of the draft now enclosed. The apology and undertaking is to be published with appropriate prominence in the 1st, 2nd or 3rd November edition of the Straits Times and the Today newspaper;

(b) read out the said apology at an SDP rally no later than 10 pm on 2nd November 2001;

(c) compensate [the plaintiff] by way of damages; and

(d) agree to indemnify [the plaintiff] in respect of the costs which he will have incurred in connection with this matter

no later than 10.00am on 2 November 2001 and warned him that if he did not comply, legal proceedings would be commenced against him.

8 The defendant complied with the demands. On 31 October 2001 he read out an apology at a rally at Jurong East in the set form:

1. On Sunday 28 October 2001, during a walkabout at Jurong GRC and, later, at a rally at Nee Soon Central, I made certain statements which were understood to mean that Senior Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew is dishonest and unfit for office because

(a) Mr Lee Kuan Yew concealed from Parliament and the public, and/or deliberately misled Parliament in relation to, a $17 billion loan made to Indonesia; and

(b) Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s continued evasion of the issue was because he had something discreditable to hide about the transaction.

2. I admit and acknowledge that I had no basis for making these allegations, and that they are false and untrue.

3. I, Chee Soon Juan, do hereby unreservedly withdraw these allegations and apologise to Mr Lee Kuan Yew for the distress and embarrassment cause to him by my false and baseless allegations.

4. I hereby also undertake not to make any further allegations or statements to the same or similar effect. I also wish to state that I have agreed to pay Mr Lee Kuan Yew damages by way of compensation and to indemnify him for all costs and expenses incurred by him in connection with this matter.

and he also caused the apology to be published in The Straits Times and Today newspapers on 1 November 2001.

9 When the defendant went back on his promise to pay compensation and costs, the plaintiff brought these proceedings against him.

The action

10 The plaintiff’s action was framed on two bases. The first was that the plaintiff and the defendant had entered into a binding compromise whereby the defendant was to perform the acts set out in the letter of 31 October 2001, and the plaintiff impliedly agreed not to ask for full damages that he would otherwise be entitled to.

11 The alternative claim was for defamation, that the subject words in their natural and ordinary meaning, or by innuendo were understood to mean that the plaintiff is dishonest and unfit for office because:

(a) the Plaintiff concealed from Parliament and the public, and/or deliberately misled Parliament in relation to, a S$17 billion loan made to Indonesia; and

(b) the Plaintiff’s continued evasion of the issue was because he had something discreditable to hide about the transaction.

12 The defendant resisted the claim and filed a defence and counterclaim that the plaintiff had defamed him. He also commenced third party proceedings, but did not prosecute them. In his defence, he denied speaking the words the plaintiff complained of, that those words referred to the plaintiff, that they were defamatory, and that he was liable for the republication of the words, and he pleaded the defences of justification, qualified privilege and fair comment. He also asserted that the compromise was invalid because it was the product of duress and intimidation.

13 The plaintiff applied for summary judgment against the defendant. When the application was argued before a senior assistant registrar (“SAR”) the plaintiff produced clear and comprehensive evidence that no loan as alleged by the defendant was made, and that the full facts about loans to Indonesia had been made known to Parliament and the public, and the information was in the public domain.

14 On 19 August 2002 after hearing the parties, the SAR entered interlocutory judgment for the plaintiff on the compromise as well as for defamation with damages (including aggravated damages) to be assessed by a judge in open court and costs including the assessment of damages to be taxed on the indemnity basis if not agreed. The SAR noted in his grounds of decision that the only defence presented before him was that the compromise was null and void by the taint of duress and intimidation. The SAR found specifically that the subject words bore the meaning that the plaintiff contended.

15 The defendant appealed against that decision. The appeal was heard by MPH Rubin J. The judge dismissed the appeal and affirmed the SAR’s decision. The defendant did not pursue the matter further.

The assessment hearing

16 The hearing was fixed for 6 to 8 September 2004. The defendant did not attend the assessment hearing.

17 The defendant was kept informed of the developments leading to the assessment hearing before me. After the order for summary judgment was affirmed, the plaintiff’s solicitors applied for directions for the assessment of damages.

18 On 29 July 2003, counsel for the plaintiff, and the defendant himself, attended before an assistant registrar. The assistant registrar ordered that the parties file their lists of documents relating to damages by 19 September 2003, and for inspection of the documents within 21 days from that date. The assistant registrar also ordered the parties to file and serve their affidavits of evidence-in-chief by 16 January 2004. The defendant did not file his list of documents or affidavit of evidence-in-chief.

19 By a letter dated 31 January 2004, he informed the Registrar:

I will be away on a fellowship in the United States (National Endowment for Democracy) from February until August 2004. As such I would be grateful if you could adjourn the above matter until my return.

20 On 4 February 2004, the plaintiff’s solicitors wrote to the Registrar to seek an appointment to fix hearing dates for the assessment of damages. In response to the request, the parties were directed to attend before an assistant registrar on 10 February 2004.

21 On 10 February, the solicitors for the plaintiff attended before the assistant...

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5 cases
  • Lee Hsien Loong v Singapore Democratic Party
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 13 October 2008
    ...the statements were made and the wider republication of the statements. 93 In the related case of Lee Kuan Yew v Chee Soon Juan (No 2) [2005] 1 SLR 552, Kan J opined that the defendant’s allegations, unless challenged head-on, demolished in a court of law and met with a substantial award of......
  • Goh Chok Tong v Chee Soon Juan (No 2)
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 6 January 2005
    ...affidavit to be decided after the affidavit was made. 35 The events that followed are described in my judgment in Suit No 1459 of 2001 ([2005] SGHC 2). The defendant was cross-examined on his application to reconvene the assessment in that suit. He then applied to cross-examine Mr Lee, the ......
  • Lee Hsien Loong v Singapore Democratic Party and Others and Another Suit
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 13 October 2008
    ...the statements were made and the wider republication of the statements. 93 In the related case of Lee Kuan Yew v Chee Soon Juan (No 2) [2005] 1 SLR 552, Kan J opined that the defendant’s allegations, unless challenged head-on, demolished in a court of law and met with a substantial award of......
  • Icadam Technologies Sdn Bhd and Others v CAD-IT Consultants (Asia) Pte Ltd and Others
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 21 July 2005
    ...damages they sought. 44 When I made the order I was mindful of the view I expressed previously in Lee Kuan Yew v Chee Soon Juan (No 2) [2005] 1 SLR 552 and Goh Chok Tong v Chee Soon Juan (No 2) [2005] 1 SLR 573. The senior assistant registrar who heard those cases entered interlocutory judg......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • Tort Law
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Annual Review Nbr. 2005, December 2005
    • 1 December 2005
    ...Ltd v Phoenix Communications Pte Ltd[2004] 1 SLR 463 (‘Macquarie’), and the two defamation cases of Lee Kuan Yew v Chee Soon Juan (No 2)[2005] 1 SLR 552 and Goh Chok Tong v Chee Soon Juan (No 2)[2005] 1 SLR 573. In Macquarie, Kan J had awarded the plaintiff aggravated damages, the quantum o......

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