Tan Chor Chuan and Others v Tan Yeow Hiang Kenneth and Others

CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
JudgeAndrew Ang J
Judgment Date28 September 2005
Neutral Citation[2005] SGHC 177
Citation[2005] SGHC 177
Defendant CounselAlvin Tan Kheng Ann and Raymond Wong Chin Teck (Wong, Thomas and Leong)
Plaintiff CounselGregory Vijayendran, Prakash Pillai and Melvin See (Wong Partnership)
Published date07 November 2005
Docket NumberSuit No 261 of 2004,Bill of Costs No 206 of 2005
Date10 November 2005
Subject MatterDefendants making defamatory statements in response to proposed issues to be discussed at meeting raised by plaintiffs,Whether natural and ordinary meaning of defamatory statements true in substance and in fact,Whether defence of fair comment failing due to defendants' failure to plead facts forming basis of comment,Requirements for defence of fair comment to be made out,Defamation,Justification,Tort,Fair comment,Qualified privilege,Whether issues raised amounting to attack on character and conduct of defendants,Whether publication of defamatory statements motivated by malice and disproportionate response to attack

28 September 2005

Andrew Ang J:

1 This is a libel action brought by nine members of the Singapore Chess Federation (“the SCF”) against the 11 members of the SCF Executive Council (“the Exco”) personally. With a view to saving time and costs, the respective plaintiff’s claims which originated from the same publication have been brought under the same writ as one legal action.

2 The libel allegedly arose from certain statements (“the Offending Words”) published by the defendants in an appeal (“the Appeal”) addressed to members on 2 January 2004 (and subsequently posted on the SCF website on 12 January 2004) in response to a requisition dated 30 December 2003 (“the Requisition”) for an extraordinary general meeting (“EOGM”) submitted by 24 members of the SCF (inclusive of the plaintiffs) listing 12 matters to be discussed and, if thought fit, to be the subject of appropriate resolutions. These matters were as follows:[note: 1]

1. No one with commercial interest (being a stakeholder or occupying an executive function in a chess company) should hold any position, neither executive nor otherwise in the SCF.
Reason: Conflict of Interest.

2. “National Coaches” appointed by the SCF should not also be trainers of a private company.
Reason: Conflict of Interest.

3. The criteria for selection and acceptance for National Representation and into Platinum squad should be spelt out clearly.
Reason: For transparency.

4. The “National” Junior Squad should comprise of no more than 10 players for each age category.
Reason: The squad size is too big.

5. The fees for the Junior Training Squad should be reduced.
Reason: Some members are reeling from the impact of the economic downturn.
From 1998 to 2002, the fees have increased on 3 occasions from $120 to $220.

6. The roles of the Honorary General Secretary and the Organising Secretary should be spelt out clearly.
Reason: To avoid confusion over their respective functions.

7. The various Committees and/or Subcommittees of SCF and its members together with the terms of reference should be published on the SCF website.
Reason: For transparency and member’s information.

8. The ASEAN Age-Group tournament should not be used as a qualifier for entry into the Platinum Squad.
Reason: Not all Singapore Youth can afford to participate.

9. The games from important qualifiers or titled tournaments should be made available to SCF members.
Reason: For the benefits of all SCF members.

10. All the rules and regulations governing any tournament, qualifier and titled tournaments should be made known in advance.
Reason: For fair play.

11. The membership figures should be updated and posted on the SCF website.
Reason: For general information of members.

12. The Executive Council of the SCF, led by President, Mr Kenneth Tan, be asked to step down. Election of new office bearers should then be held.

Reason: No confidence in management.

3 When the Exco received the Requisition, they were upset to say the least. This led to the Appeal to the members by the President (the first defendant) on behalf of the Exco. Despite its length, it is necessary to set it out in full in order to appreciate the context in which the Offending Words (set out by me in bold italics) were made. It read as follows:[note: 2]

Dear member


On behalf of the EXCO, I apologise for having to impose on your valuable time to deal with an effort by 24 of our members to remove the existing Singapore Chess Federation (SCF) Executive Committee.

According to these members, of which 10 are first time members who only signed up in the last few months and have not been involved in any prior SCF activities till now, they have lost confidence in the EXCO’s management capabilities and would like to elect new office bearers to run the SCF. Please see the attached document submitted to SCF on 30 Dec 03.

When this EXCO was resoundingly elected in an open forum (many of us twice in the last three years), all of us took the position that we were here to make a real difference to Singapore Chess – to put Singapore on the world map of chess – where we should belong. Over the past three years, it is our belief that this team has delivered on our promises selflessly and with full and unstinting dedication to improving the status of chess in Singapore despite our extremely busy private lifes and careers.

We have put in place a highly successful Junior Training programme that even other countries acknowledge has resulted in Singapore now being a regional chess power and which our neighbours want to emulate. After just 3 short years, we have added 2 IM norms, 7FMs, 10 Golds in the ASEAN chess games and 4 SEA games medals to Singapore’s chess fraternity. 13 players (11 juniors and 2 adults) were given Singapore Sports Council Sports Excellence awards. We can categorically say, there had been no similar period of renaissance in the past 45 years of Singapore chess.

Our recent SEA games debut, spear headed by our juniors were extremely commendable – exceeding even the Singapore National Olympic Committee’s expectation and those of our opponents who were predominantly experienced GMs and IMs who play chess for a living. No deserving person has been denied a place to participate in our Junior Training programme if they could not afford it and had informed the SCF of their distressed financial situation. When they do express the need for financial assistance, many have been given such assistance from the SCF’s pool of limited funds, painstakingly garnered by being constantly aware of the need to balance our books and with dedicated effort to raise funds from multiple sources in a difficult economic environment.

We have also managed to turn around the dire financial state the SCF was. Just three years ago the SCF had a projected deficit of close to $80,000. Today, the SCF is financially comfortable to pursue our plans to further expand our efforts to bring a world class quality chess experience to all Singapore based chess players – for instance bringing more quality events for all chess players – those just starting out, the enthusiasts and those wishing to honourably represent the country – hopefully positioning ourselves to do well in the coming Asian Games and Olympiads where we hope to make an honourable debut befitting Singapore. We have also put in place programmes to train quality arbiters to run more tournaments and events for you professionally and also many public outreach programmes such as running chess teaching clinics in our libraries and schools for all Singaporeans, not just SCF members.

All the other issues raised by these 24 members in their requisition are either mischievous or selectively inaccurate to achieve the effect desired – to misrepresent and therefore to remove the SCF EXCO for reasons best known to these 24 members. Let me explain.

The EXCO represented below can categorically state that none of us were or are involved in any commercial chess enterprises. All of us are volunteers whose sole objective was to leverage on our collective strengths to bring Singapore chess to new heights – to return to Singapore society what we have gained from it many years earlier.

All decisions made by the EXCO have been transparently made according to clearly published guidelines, be it in selection of players to don national colours or procurements placed on the web. Decisions are clearly documented down in SCF EXCO minutes which are available for members perusal upon request.

When the SCF have had to hire administrators or seek services to help the SCF run our wide range of activities they have also been done on the basis of an open public tender so as to obtain the best possible service for the SCF in the most economical manner given our limited and stretched resources. All decisions made by the EXCO on selection and procurement were in full accordance with guidelines posted on the SCF website for all to see. These guidelines have been on the website for the past 3 years and have constantly been updated in accordance with members’ feedback. Such detailed and publicly available guidelines never existed before this EXCO took over.

Yes, there could be issues on why some of the fees charged by the SCF could be perceived as high but I hope you would appreciate the SCF’s dilemma. We are not exactly a financially well endowed organisation. We operate in Singapore where costs are not the same as those in the region. Given these constraints, the EXCO has taken the decision not to compromise on quality of whatever service we provide to our members as this could only have a long term detrimental effect on how chess is positioned in Singapore for all chess players current and our children who deserve better. All services are procured through an open tender and the SCF would have been more than happy to take better offers if available. It would have been even better if we could have more volunteers to run various SCF programmes and if you could volunteer your time and services, this would certainly be appreciated.

Other requirements in the requisition by these 24 members such as providing information on membership numbers and details, terms of reference of various EXCO members etc are displayed prominently in the SCF office for all members to view. I am sure most of you know where these information can be publicly viewed and obtained, but perhaps our new members who have signed this petition have not been here or visited the SCF premises to notice the easy availability of such information for all.

While it appears on surface that points 1 to 11 of the requisition document would suggest that the current SCF EXCO have been derelict in their duties to serve members and Singapore well, perhaps the conclusion could be that the objective of these 24 members is merely to remove the EXCO – point 12 of the requisition, for reasons in which only they know. Could the first 11...

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