Tan Swie Hian v Yeng Pway Ngon

CourtDistrict Court (Singapore)
JudgeLoo Ngan Chor
Judgment Date04 July 2012
Neutral Citation[2012] SGDC 243
Citation[2012] SGDC 243
Hearing Date10 March 2011,26 January 2012,09 March 2011,12 June 2012,07 March 2011,14 September 2010,22 November 2010,25 January 2012,10 October 2011,08 March 2011
Docket NumberDistrict Court Suit No. 2592 of 2005
Published date23 January 2013
Plaintiff CounselMuthu Kumaran (M/s Kumaran Law)
Defendant CounselMargaret George (M/s Belinda Ang Tang & Partners)
District Judge Loo Ngan Chor: Introduction

Let me give you very brief reasons for the decision that I shall be making in regard to the trial before me, that had concluded on 10th March 2011. In coming to my decision, I have carefully read parties’ closing submissions of 10th October 2011 and their reply submissions of 25th January 2012. I have checked their submissions, about 600 pages of them, against the record of the case.

The plaintiff has sued the defendant for libel arising from a letter dated 25th May 2005 that the defendant admittedly wrote to Mr Liu Thai Ker, then chairman of the National Arts Council (“NAC”), and copied to Mr Aun Koh, the deputy director of Visual Arts and Literary Arts of the NAC.

On the afternoon of 13th May 2005, both the plaintiff and the defendant attended a meeting of the NAC. They had attended the meeting to be briefed as members of a panel of judges for an event known as the Golden Points Award 2005. Present was Mr Chua Chim Kang, also an invited judge. According to the defendant, the plaintiff and Mr Chua were to be judges in the Chinese Poetry segment of the event and the defendant a judge in the Chinese Novel segment.

The plaintiff and the defendant are both Cultural Medallion winners, which I understand to be the top accolade given to illustrious persons in recognition of their outstanding contributions to the Chinese Arts scene in Singapore. According to the defendant, he won the Cultural Medallion in 2003 for Chinese literature and the plaintiff for the category of art.

The subject of the allegedly offending letter was a conversation that the parties had. It was common ground that the conversation was brief and conducted softly, in undertones. It was also common ground that Mr Chua was seated between the parties.

According to the allegedly offending letter of the defendant, amongst other things, when the defendant greeted the plaintiff as Dr Tan, the plaintiff reproached the defendant for being present at the briefing which involved a government-supported event when he had been jailed for being a leftist. The plaintiff allegedly also said “don’t know how many people you have sold out!” The letter stated that Mr Chua had heard “everything” as Mr Chua allegedly said to the defendant “later: What a hot-tempered man he is!”

The letter referred to the plaintiff as “not only a very famous artist in Singapore but also a cultivated Buddhist. Why should he humiliate and slander me to my face for no reason? I cannot recall having offended him in any way and am shocked and upset by his verbal violence.”

The letter went on to say that it wished to have advice on whether he should “receive insults like this quietly” in future NAC events. It also said that he felt that the chairman of the NAC should know about “this incident: a cultural medallion winner humiliating another!” and asked to be given the advice sought.

The plaintiff’s version, set out for the first time in his affidavit of evidence in chief, shared a common thread with the defendant’s version, namely, references to the defendant’s presence at the event when he despised the government and had been jailed. In terms of slant, the plaintiff’s version was one of surprise at the defendant’s presence and did not have the abrasiveness apparent in the defendant’s version. The plaintiff’s version did not contain the accusation that the defendant had betrayed anyone.

On receiving no response to his lawyer’s letters, the plaintiff sued on 17th August 2005. The progress of the suit was thereafter by fits and starts, which the plaintiff explained in testimony as having been occasioned by his having heard that the defendant was unwell.

The plaintiff has sought to assign 33 defamatory meanings to the letter. I am satisfied that the objective, natural and ordinary meaning to be assigned to the letter is that the plaintiff is a hot-tempered and rude person, that he humiliates others without provocation and/or no or little reason, and that he demonstrates these character traits even in a social or public setting. These meanings are close to but not quite those pleaded at 28.14-28.18; 28.25; 28.20-28.21; 28.26-28.29 of the Statement of Claim (Amendment No. 3).

In my view, whilst it may be debatable whether it is defamatory...

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