Times Publishing Bhd and Others v Sivadas

JurisdictionSingapore
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Judgment Date04 July 1988
Date04 July 1988
Docket NumberSuit No 5888 of 1984

[1988] SGHC 52

High Court

Joseph Grimberg JC

Suit No 5888 of 1984

Times Publishing Bhd and others
Plaintiff
and
Sivadas
Defendant

Lord Irvine of Lairg QC and A P Godwin (Godwin & Co) for the plaintiffs

Wong Meng Meng and Anabelle Yip (Shook Lin & Bok) for the defendant.

Bradlaugh v Gossett (1884) 12 QBD 271 (refd)

Church of Scientology of California v Johnson-Smith [1972] 1 QB 422; [1972] 1 All ER 378 (refd)

Goffin v Donnelly (1881) 6 QBD 307 (refd)

Lake v King (1667) 1 Wms Saund 131; 85 ER 137 (folld)

Parliamentary Privilege Act 1770, In re [1958] AC 331 (refd)

R v Murphy (1986) 64 ALR 498 (refd)

R v Secretary of State for trade, Ex parte Anderson Strathclyde plc [1983] 2 All ER 233 (refd)

Rivlin v Bilainkin [1953] 1 QB 485 (refd)

Roy v Prior [1971] AC 470 (not folld)

Times Publishing Bhd v Sivadas [1985-1986] SLR (R) 269; [1984-1985] SLR 709 (refd)

Parliament (Privileges, Immunities and Powers) Act (Cap 49, 1970Rev Ed)ss 4, 5 (2), 17 (1) (consd); ss 3 (1),3 (2), 5,17, 20 (2)

Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act (Cth)Art 49

Bill of Rights 1688 (c 2) (UK)Art 9

Parliamentary Privilege Act1770 (c 50) (UK)

Constitutional Law–Parliament–Privileges and immunities–Written representations containing allegedly defamatory statements submitted to Select Committee–Defendant not invited to give oral evidence before Select Committee–Whether written representations were part of proceedings in Parliament–Whether defence of absolute privilege available in relation to written representations–Sections 4, 5 (2) and 17 (1) Parliament (Privileges, Immunities and Powers) Act (Cap 49, 1970 Rev Ed)–Tort–Defamation–Absolute privilege–Written representations containing allegedly defamatory statements submitted to Select Committee–Whether defence of absolute privilege available in relation to written representations–Sections 4, 5 (2) and 17 (1) Parliament (Privileges, Immunities and Powers) Act (Cap 49, 1970 Rev Ed)–Words and Phrases–“Person”–Section 5 (2) Parliament (Privileges, Immunities and Powers) Act (Cap 49, 1970 Rev Ed)

The defendant, in response to a notice inviting representations on the Companies (Amendment) Bill for the consideration of a Select Committee, had submitted written representations indicating that he would be prepared to appear before the Select Committee with a view to giving oral evidence. The Select Committee did not resolve to hear oral evidence from the defendant, but included the defendant's representations in its report to Parliament.

The nine plaintiffs took the view that they had been defamed by certain of the statements which formed part of the defendant's written representations to the Select Committee and claimed damages for defamation and an injunction to restrain the defendant from further publishing the statements complained of or similar statements. An earlier summons, and attendant appeal, filed by the defendant to strike out the proceedings by reason of absolute privilege were dismissed. The defendant then applied for the determination of the preliminary issue of whether absolute privilege extended to written representations made by a witness (in this case the defendant), who was a stranger, to a Select Committee of Parliament in Singapore, in response to an invitation from Parliament, when the witness had not given oral evidence before the Committee. It was common ground that an affirmative answer on the preliminary issue would dispose of the plaintiffs' claim against the defendant.

Held, deciding the preliminary issue in the affirmative and dismissing the claim:

(1) As the act of the defendant in submitting written representations was so ancillary to, and connected with proceedings in Parliament, as to become part of those proceedings, the defendant's written representations to the Select Committee attracted absolute privilege. This privilege was not affected by the Parliament (Privileges, Immunities and Powers) Act (Cap 49, 1970 Rev Ed): at [38] and [54].

(2) The word “person” in s 5 (2) of the Act meant any person, and included strangers. Accordingly, as s 5 (2) exempted from liability any person who acted under the authority of Parliament, the defendant would be entitled to immunity since the submission of his representations was a response to the invitation to perform an act under the authority of Parliament: at [51] and [53].

(3) The conclusion that s 5 (2) of the Act was applicable in the circumstances was not inconsistent with s 17 (1), for the latter was of a narrower ambit and provided only for the immunity of witnesses who gave evidence before Parliament or a committee of Parliament. Although the facts of the present case had resulted in an overlap in the provisions of ss 5 (2) and 17 (1), this was not an uncommon result of the proper construction of a statute: at [54] and [55].

Judgment reserved.

Joseph Grimberg JC

1 The Companies (Amendment) Bill (“the Bill”) was committed to a Select Committee, by resolution of Parliament, on 17 January 1984. On 26 January 1984 the Clerk of Parliament (“the Clerk”) caused to be published in The Straits Times a notice inviting representations on the Bill from the public, for the consideration of the Select Committee.

2 In causing the notice to be so published, the Clerk had acted in pursuance of Standing Order 75, which is in the following terms:

Unless Parliament otherwise orders, upon a Bill being committed to a Select Committee, the Clerk shall as soon as practicable thereafter advertise in such newspapers as the Speaker may direct, inviting written representations on the Bill to be sent to him within not less than a period of fifteen days from the date of the advertisement and requesting the representors to state whether they are prepared, if required, to appear before the Select Committee to give evidence in support of or supplementary to their written representations.

3 The Clerk's notice set out the main objects of the Bill, and representors were requested to state “whether they would be prepared, if invited, to appear before the Select Committee to give oral evidence supporting or supplementing their written representations”.

4 The defendant, Mr S Sivadas, in response to the invitation contained in the notice, submitted written representations to the Clerk on 7 February 1984. He indicated that he would be prepared, subject to certain travel arrangements, to appear before the Select Committee with a view to giving oral evidence. The defendant's representations were acknowledged by the Clerk in a letter dated 15 February 1984 in which the Clerk stated that the defendant would be informed if the Select Committee decided that he was to be invited to give evidence before it.

5 The Select Committee held a number of meetings. At the first of these which took place on 4 April 1984, all written representations then at hand were considered, and it was decided that the Committee would hear oral evidence from a number of representors. The defendant was not among those whose oral evidence the Committee resolved to hear. The Committee also decided at this first meeting that all written representations received by it would be included in its report, when published.

6 In the result, the defendant was not invited to give oral evidence before the Committee, whose report was presented to Parliament on 12 June 1984. Appendix II to the report comprised the written representations received by the Committee, including those made by the defendant.

7 The first plaintiffs are newspaper proprietors and publishers and the second plaintiffs are publishers. The third to ninth plaintiffs, all men distinguished in their respective fields, were members of the boards of the first and second plaintiffs when the defendant made his written representations to the Select Committee. They took the view that they had been gravely defamed by certain of the statements which formed part of the defendant's representations, and caused a writ to be issued against him on 24 August 1984, claiming damages for defamation and an injunction to restrain the defendant from further publishing the statements complained of or similar statements.

8 On 15 November 1984 the defendant's solicitors issued a summons to strike out, asserting that the statements complained of by the plaintiffs could not be the subject of proceedings, by reason of absolute privilege. The application was dismissed with costs by the Registrar on 11 January 1985.

9 The defendant appealed to a judge in chambers. His appeal was dismissed with costs in May 1985. Lai Kew Chai J, while expressing a tentative view that the defendant's written representations to the Select Committee were absolutely privileged, held that it was not so plain or obvious a case as to warrant a striking out: Times Publishing Bhd v Sivadas [1985-1986] SLR (R) 269.

10 Pleadings closed on 24 May 1985. The defendant raises a number of defences, including absolute privilege. Paragraph 8 of the amended defence is in the following terms:

Further or in the alternative as to para 5 of the re-amended statement of claim herein, the defendant will say that the alleged occasion of publication was an occasion of absolute privilege.

Particulars

The defendant will say that the said words are published in pursuance of an advertisement or notice placed by Parliament of Singapore on 26 January 1984 requesting members of the public to make representations on the said Companies (Amendment) Bill which is a matter of public interest and/or is covered by the privilege given to parliamentary proceedings.

Further or in the alternative as to para 5 of the re-amended statement of claim herein, the defendant would say that the alleged occasion of publication was an occasion of qualified privilege.

11 On 23 July 1985, the defendant petitioned the Public Petitions Committee of Parliament. He asked, inter alia, that the proceedings commenced against him by the plaintiffs...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT