Open court hearing of Leong Sze Hian’s appeal against striking out of counterclaim against PM Lee to be held tomorrow

Veteran blogger Leong Sze Hian’s appeal against the striking out of his counterclaim against Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will be heard in the Court of Appeal tomorrow (27 Sep).

Leong’s lawyer Lim Tean said on Facebook today that the open court hearing will begin at 2.30 pm. Members of the public who wish to attend the hearing, however, will have to join the queue system in order to gain access into the courtroom, as there are limited seats, he said.

“I shall be arguing Leong Sze Hian’s appeal against the striking out of his counterclaim for damages against Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for abuse of process of the court in the Court of Appeal tomorrow.

“Please note that this is not the defamation trial, which is still quite some way away. Leong Sze Hian has not been found liable to the Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for defamation.

“Tomorrow’s hearing is to determine whether Leong Sze Hian is allowed to pursue a Counterclaim for damages against the Prime Minister for alleged abuse of process of the Court,” Lim elaborated.

Leong’s appeal will be heard by a three-panel judge comprising Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, Justice Of Appeal Andrew Phang and Justice Of Appeal Judith Prakash.

On 13 Mar this year, the High Court cited Leong’s failure to disclose a “reasonable cause of action” in his counterclaim as a reason to dismiss the counterclaim.

Justice Aedit Abdullah, in delivering his judgement in Lee Hsien Loong v Leong Sze Hian [2019] SGHC 66 on 12 Feb, cited the Court of Appeal’s decision in Lee Tat Development Pte Ltd v Management Corporation Strata Title Plan No 301 [2018] 2 SLR 866, which “rejected the tort of abuse of process as a recognised cause of action”.

The point was made based on Lee’s defence against Leong’s counterclaim, filed on 9 Jan this year, which argued that Leong “did not disclose a reasonable cause of action”.

Citing Lee’s submission, Aedit J said: “A ‘reasonable cause of action’ is one that has ‘some chance of success when only the allegations in the pleading are considered’.

“A claim based on a cause of action that is not recognised at law will be struck out for disclosing no reasonable cause of action.

“Accordingly, as the defendant’s counterclaim discloses no recognised [emphasis by Aedit J] cause of action [in the law], let alone a reasonable one, it should be struck out,” reasoned the Judge.

The present case arose out of Leong’s sharing of an article by “Malaysian-based social news network” The Coverage on his personal Facebook Timeline, titled “Breaking News: Singapore Lee Hsien Loong Becomes 1MDB’s Key Investigation Target – Najib Signed Several Unfair Agreements with Hsien Loong In Exchange For Money Laundering”.

The article alleged that Lee had entered “several unfair agreements” with Najib, who was the Malaysian Prime Minister at the time the deals purportedly took place, “including the agreement to build the Singapore-Malaysia High Speed Rail”, according to court documents.

Leong, who had shared the article on 7 Nov last year, did not include any accompanying text alongside the article.

Prior to his removal of the post on 10 Nov after receiving a notice from the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) on 9 Nov, the court noted that Leong’s article had garnered “22 ‘reactions’, five ‘comments’, and 18 ‘shares’”.

Subsequently, a writ of summons was filed by Mr Lee against Mr Leong on 20 Nov for defamation, on the grounds that the offending article created the “false and baseless” impression that Mr Lee had misused his position as Prime Minister to assist  Najib’s money laundering activities in relation to 1MDB’s funds, and subsequently insinuated that Lee was “complicit in criminal activity” relating to the Malaysian state fund.

In response, Leong filed his defence and counterclaim against Mr Lee’s suit on 26 Dec, citing Lee’s “abuse” of the judicial process as his “relevant cause of action”.

However, Lee filed a defence against Leong’s counterclaim on 9 Jan this year, stating that the latter “did not disclose a reasonable cause of action”.