The Federal Court has reinstated the High Court’s decision ordering Pertubuhan Pribumi Perkasa Malaysia (Perkasa) and its president Datuk Ibrahim Ali to pay RM150,000 in damages to former Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng for defamation.
In a 2-1 majority decision, the three-member bench led by Federal Court judge Datuk Nallini Pathmanathan allowed Lim’s appeal to set aside the Court of Appeal’s decision which had overturned the High Court’s ruling.
Justice Datuk Harmindar Singh Dhaliwal, who delivered the court’s judgment, held that a public officer, whether he is suing in his official or personal capacity, is not prohibited from bringing an action for damages for defamation.
Justice Nallini concurred with Justice Harmindar while Justice Datuk Abdul Rahman Sebli dissented.
The court awarded RM50,000 in costs to Lim, who is DAP secretary-general and former finance minister.
Justice Abdul Rahman said that Lim had filed the defamation suit in his official capacity.
He said Lim, who filed the action in his official capacity, was not properly represented by a government legal officer as required under the Government Proceedings Act, adding that there was also no fiat, or formal authorisation, produced by the law firm representing him.
Lim had filed the defamation suit in 2012 against seven respondents, claiming that former Perkasa information chief the late Ruslan Kassim had published a statement on Perkasa’s website on Oct 1,2011 implying that he was endangering national security by exposing the country’s secrets to Singapore.
On March 26,2015, the High Court found The New Straits Times Press (M) Bhd (NSTP), its former group editor Syed Nazri Syed Harun, Utusan Melayu (M) Sdn Bhd, its group editor-in-chief Abdul Aziz Ishak, Perkasa, Ibrahim and Ruslan liable for defamation.
The High Court had ordered Perkasa to pay RM150,000, while NSTP and Utusan were to pay RM200,000 each in damages.
On March 5,2019, Lim pursued his application in the Federal Court to obtain leave to appeal only against Perkasa, Ibrahim and Ruslan. However, at the outset of his appeal hearing in the Federal Court on Sept 22 last year, Lim withdrew his legal action against Ruslan who had passed away.
Lim obtained leave to appeal to the Federal Court against the Court of Appeal’s decision in July 2019.
Lim also withdrew his leave to appeal application against NSTP and Utusan Melayu on March 5,2019 after the mainstream media conceded to reinstate the High Court decision and agreed to pay RM200,000 each in damages to him.
The proceedings were conducted via Zoom.