The defamation suit filed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong against veteran blogger and financial advisor Leong Sze Hian will be heard in the High Court in October after a previous postponement of the trial.
Mr Leong’s lawyer Lim Tean in a Facebook post on Monday (31 August) said that the hearing, which is set to take place from 6 October to 9 October, which will be open to the public.
The trial which was supposed to be held in July earlier this year, was postponed after PM Lee’s representing counsel, Senior Counsel Davinder Singh fell sick and given a month long medical leave.
According to the press release by Carson Law Chambers, both PM Lee and Leong Sze Hian will be physically present at the trial where they would give evidence and be cross-examined.
The release added that an expert witness from Hong Kong will be called by PM Lee.
It is further said that the presiding judge will arrange for the largest court room available for the trial due to keen interest in the case.
The defamation suit concerns an article by shared by Mr Leong 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” in November 2018.
The article, published by “Malaysian-based social news network” The Coverage, alleged that Mr Lee had entered “several unfair agreements” with Najib Razak, 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.
Mr Leong did not include any accompanying text alongside the article at the time he shared the article.
In an appeal following the striking out of Mr Leong’s counterclaim against Mr Lee’s defamation suit, Mr Lim argued before a three-judge panel that while Mr Lee “may be a litigant in person”, he argued that Mr Lee, as Prime Minister, is “bringing libel action to protect the reputation of his government”, and that consequently it has “a chilling effect on free speech”.
Mr Lim also highlighted that out of the “10,000 people” who had shared the allegedly defamatory article, Mr Leong was the only one to be sued by PM Lee.
“We have a case of the prime minister exercising the highest form of selectivism to determine who (the) recipient of libel claim will be and in this case it is directed at a prominent critic of the government who has written well over 2,000 articles over the years,” Mr Lim told the Court of Appeal during the open hearing on 27 September last year.
Chief Justice Menon said, however, that a plaintiff in a defamation action is “entitled to invoke the aid of the court to vindicate his interests if he is at the receiving end of a defamatory publication”.
Courts, he added, “cannot limit the rights of injured parties to access the courts, even if they happen to be public figures”.
The High Court earlier cited Mr Leong’s failure to disclose a “reasonable cause of action” in Mr Leong’s counterclaim as a reason to dismiss the counterclaim.
Justice Aedit Abdullah — who will be hearing the defamation suit early next month — in delivering his judgement last year, cited the Court of Appeal’s decision in Lee Tat Development Pte Ltd v Management Corporation Strata Title Plan No 301  2 SLR 866, which “rejected the tort of abuse of process as a recognised cause of action”.