Nirumalan K Pillay and Others v A Balakrishnan and Others

CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
JudgeG P Selvam J
Judgment Date08 August 1996
Neutral Citation[1996] SGHC 157
Citation[1996] SGHC 157
Subject MatterDefamation,Plea of fair comment on a matter of public interest,Application to strike out parts of reply -Whether parts of reply relevant,Prohibition against introducing in reply matters not related to defence and which ought to have been raised in statement of claim,Whether particulars relevant,Pleadings,Reply,Civil Procedure,O 78 r 3 Rules of the Supreme Court,Particulars of facts and matters from which express malice may be inferred
Published date19 September 2003
Defendant CounselJB Jeyaretnam and G Krishnan (G Krishnan & Co)
Docket NumberSuit No 2308 of 1996 (Registrar's Appeals Nos 115 and 123 of 1996)
Date08 August 1996
Plaintiff CounselTan Chee Meng and Michael Palmer (Harry Elias & Partners)
The application

This is an appeal from the decision of senior assistant registrar Mr James Leong to judge in chambers. It is on a point of procedure and concerns an application by the defendants to strike out a reply filed by the plaintiffs to the defence. The cause of action is alleged libel by the defendants.

There are 11 plaintiffs in the action and four defendants. The first defendant, Mr A Balakrishnan, was the author of the alleged libellous article in Tamil which appeared in The Hammer , the party organ of the third defendants, the Workers` Party. There is no allegation that the first defendant published The Hammer containing the article in question. It is alleged that the second defendant published and caused to be published the relevant issue of The Hammer . It is further alleged that the second defendant, Mr JB Jeyaretnam, is the editor of The Hammer. The fourth defendants were the printers of the relevant issue of The Hammer. The fourth defendants have separate legal representation and did not feature themselves in the application. In this judgment the first three defendants will be called collectively as `the defendants`.

The alleged libel

The alleged libel is said to be contained in an article on a campaign called the Tamil Language Week (the Week). The plaintiffs were members of the organizing committee. Several Indian members of Parliament from the People`s Action Party, including a cabinet minister, participated in functions of the Week. A separate libel action was brought by the People`s Action Party members of Parliament.

The material allegations of libel against the defendants in this action are set out in the amended statement of claim as follows :

6 The words complained of in para 4 herein meant and were understood to mean in their natural and ordinary meaning that :

(a) the plaintiffs and each of them are stooges of the government in allowing themselves to be regarded as the sacrificial white doves;

(b) the plaintiffs organized the Tamil Language Week in order to obtain and curry favour with the government;

(c) the plaintiffs are incompetent, inactive and ineffective in promoting the Tamil language and they are cheats and liars in not fulfilling their duties in the specific cause of promoting the Tamil language; and

(d) the plaintiffs are nakedly prostituting themselves in order to seek political gain/office rather than serve the cause of the Tamil language.

The plaintiffs have claimed damages and aggravated damages and the facts and matters to support the claim for aggravated damages are set out in five sub-paragraphs. It is unnecessary to repeat them here.

The defence

The defendants filed a joint defence in which they denied the libel. As an alternative defence they said that: `If, which is denied, the words refer to the plaintiffs and are defamatory at all of the plaintiffs the defendants say the words are fair comment on a matter of public interest.` Particulars of fair comment were set out in five paragraphs. It is unnecessary to repeat them here.

The reply

The plaintiffs responded to the defence by filing a reply. The reply stated that the words complained of were not comment but defamatory assertions of fact. Further in prayer 4 of the reply the plaintiffs set out in six sub-paragraphs additional facts and matters in support of their claim for aggravated damages. More significantly in para 3 they alleged that `in publishing or...

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    ...should have been made in the alternative in the Statement of Claim. As was said by G P Selvam J in Nirumalan K Pillay v A Balakrishnan [1997] 1 SLR 322 at [10], a case cited by the The reply serves the function of answering points raised in the defence so that the defendant is given notice ......
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