SEP 25 1997
Judgment reserved in Tang's appeals
By Koh Buck Song
THE three-judge Court of Appeal yesterday reserved judgment in the 14
appeals by Workers' Party candidate Tang Liang Hong after a 2-1/2-day hearing.
Its verdict on whether to uphold the High Court ruling that Mr Tang
was guilty of defamation and should pay $8.075 million in damages will
be made later.
Closing his case yesterday, Queen's Counsel Charles Gray, representing
Mr Tang, said the lawyers for the 11 People's Action Party leaders had
failed to "grasp the nettle" of his case.
The damages Mr Tang has to pay were "exorbitant, disproportionate,
unjust, grotesque" and "wholly unrealistic", the QC said,
giving a breakdown of the amounts awarded in each of the 13 suits. He acknowledged
that, in Singapore, previous cases were often used as a yardstick to decide
the quantum of damages for defamation.
But he urged the court to note the recent "sea change" in
how defamation awards were viewed abroad, to bring them more in line with
what plaintiffs got in cases of crippling physical injury.
He also asked Justices M. Karthigesu, L. P. Thean and G. P. Selvam to
take into account duplication in the suits against Mr Tang, the prevailing
cost of living, the level of earnings of an average person, and the "chilling
effect" of huge awards to politicians in inhibiting freedom of expression
Mr Gray also argued that:
- It did not matter that there was no allegation of actual impropriety
over the apartment purchases by Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew and Deputy
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, as even Finance Minister Richard Hu had
told Parliament that there was a public perception of impropriety.
- There was no need for separate notices of appeal, since Justice Goh
Joon Seng's decision to strike out Mr Tang's appeal on the grounds that
he had failed to comply with court rulings would "disappear"
if it was found that Justice Lai Kew Chai, who made the earlier ruling,
should instead have disqualified himself from the case for apparent bias.
- The PAP lawyers gave no explanation why they resisted putting the 13
suits together in this "classic case for consolidation" which
would have saved court time and costs.
- Mr Gray insisted that he stood uncontradicted that there was no precedent
for a worldwide Mareva injunction before judgment in a defamation case,
despite PAP lawyers citing an example of a previous case in which a Mareva
- It was wrong of Justice Chao Hick Tin to award extra damages against
Mr Tang for attacking the judiciary, as damages in defamation cases were
meant to compensate and not punish.
- It was "legal nonsense" to imply that Mr Gray had further
aggravated the damages by his conduct in this appeal, since damages can
be aggravated before and up to a trial, but not afterwards.
- Justice Chao was "sadly left in the dark" that SM Lee and
Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong had obtained and released Mr Tang's two police
reports, since the PAP lawyers gave no good reason why this fact was concealed
until last month.
- SC Wong Meng Meng's proposition, that it was immaterial that the SM
and PM released the reports since Mr Tang must have known the reports would
be publicised eventually, was "remarkable and wrong-headed",
since one cannot be held liable for what a third party does.
- Mr Tang had good reason not to return here to confront the case against
him, as he was harassed, placed in the "straitjacket" of the
$11.2 million Mareva injunction, and deprived of legal representation until
- There was no convincing evidence of Mr Tang's Chinese chauvinism, and
"not a shred" to show he was anti-Malay or anti-Islam, he said,
brushing aside the evidence cited by PAP lawyers as "nothing more
than a bunch of beans".
To think Mr Tang's speech at a 1994 dinner about religious harmony could
lead to the sort of ethnic division seen in Rwanda or Bosnia was "really
the height of absurdity", the QC said, urging the court to reject
the ruling that Mr Tang had defamed the PAP leaders and to reduce the damages