Appeals Court: No exemption, Sultanah has to give evidence

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The Sultanah of Terengganu, Sultanah Nur Zahirah has to testify to prove her defamation suit against Sarawak Report editor Clare Rewcastle-Brown and two others.

This was the outcome after the Court of Appeal allowed the appeal by Rewcastle-Brown and two others to set aside a High Court’s decision in exempting Sultanah Nur Zahirah from testifying in her defamation suit against them.

Justice Datuk Mohamad Zabidin Mohd Diah, who led a three-member panel, in a unanimous decision, said the plaintiff (Sultanah Nur Zahirah) ought not to have pursued the matter via Order 14A of the Rules of the Court 2012 for the case to be decided through points of law.

“The matter is to be determined at a trial. The whole application (by Sultanah Nur Zahirah at the High Court) should have been dismissed. We, therefore, allow the appeal and set aside the High Court judge’s order dated December 13, 2019,” said Justice Mohamad Zabidin, who presided over the appeal with Justices Datuk S Nantha Balan and Datuk Lee Heng Cheong in the proceedings conducted via Zoom.

Justice Mohamad Zabidin said in this case, the impugned statement was found on page three of the book (The Sarawak Report — The Inside Story of the 1MDB Expose) and it must be determined at the trial.

“The court agreed that the bane and antidote is an ingredient of defence but it is not an exclusive defence. The publication must be read as a whole and the bane and antidote must be taken together. It cannot be truncated in the way the judge has done under Order 14A,” he said.

The panel made the ruling after hearing submissions from senior counsel Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram, who appeared for Rewcastle-Brown or Clare Louis Brown, Gerakbudaya Enterprise publisher Chong Ton Sin and printer Vinlin Press Sdn Bhd as the appellants, and counsel Vishnu Kumar, representing Sultanah Nur Zahirah.

Meanwhile, another of Sultanah Nur Zahirah’s counsel, Datuk Mohd Haaziq Pillay, when contacted, said they would make an application for their client to give evidence via video conferencing due to the issue of security.

He said the High Court had set August 26 for case management of the suit.

On December 13, 2019, the Kuala Lumpur High Court allowed Sultanah Nur Zahirah’s application for the suit to be disposed of by way of Order 14A of the Rules of the Court 2012 through determination on points of law.

Following the court’s decision, Sultanah Nur Zahirah is exempted from testifying in the defamation suit which she filed in November 2018 against Rewcastle-Brown, Gerakbudaya Enterprise and printer Vinlin Press.

In her statement of claim, Sultanah Nur Zahirah alleged that Rewcastle-Brown made a disparaging statement on her in her book, The Sarawak Report — The Inside Story of the 1MDB Expose.

The Sultanah claimed that the statement could be taken to mean that she was involved in corrupt practices and interfered in the state’s administration, besides using her status to influence the establishment of the Terengganu Investment Authority (TIA), which later became 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

Sultanah Nur Zahirah also alleged that the statement had construed her as having helped Jho Low or Low Taek Jho to become the adviser of TIA.

She contended that she had never involved herself in the administration of Terengganu and establishment of TIA and therefore the statement had slandered and tarnished her reputation.

The Sultanah is claiming general damages of RM100 million from each defendant and is also seeking an order for the publisher to withdraw the book containing the defamatory statement and for the printer to stop printing the book.