Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Lim Kit Siang v Ling Liong Sik

Lim Kit Siang v Datuk Dr Ling Liong Sik & Ors

[1997] 5 MLJ 523





Tort — Defamation — Libel — Whether actual words must be pleaded — Whether words attributed to first defendant capable of bearing defamatory meaning — Whether plaintiff has sufficient cause of action


The plaintiff, the leader of a political party, brought actions against the defendants. The first defendant was the leader of another political party while the second, third and fourth defendants were the editor, publisher and printer of a local daily newspaper respectively. The causes of action of both suits were based on a statement allegedly made by the first defendant in a speech which was later published by the second, third and fourth defendants. The alleged defamatory statements concerned funds collected by the plaintiff’s political party for the payment of quit rent of Bukit China in Melaka. The first defendant raised the preliminary issues of whether the words set out in the statement of claim were capable of bearing the defamatory meaning as alleged by the plaintiff and whether the statement as published could be defamatory in effect. The issues raised by the second, third and fourth defendants were whether the words published in both reports, read in their ordinary and natural meaning, were capable of being defamatory and whether the plaintiff’s allegations in his statement of claim disclosed a sufficient cause of action against them.

Held, striking out the plaintiff’s application with costs:

(1) The alleged defamatory words as uttered must be reproduced in verbatim in the statement of claim and a certified translation must be tendered. To merely describe the substance, purpose or effect of the words was not sufficient. What was important was not the fact that the first defendant had used the defamatory expression but the fact of his having used those defamatory expressions as alleged. Since the alleged defamatory words as pleaded in the plaintiff’s statement of claim (even if it captured the essence of what the first defendant said) was based on the newspaper report and therefore the product of the reporter’s journalistic skills, the statement of claim did not disclose any cause of action against the first defendant (see pp 526D, H–I and 527D–E); Bruce v Odhams Press Ltd [1936] 1 KB 69, Harris v Warre (1879) 4 CPD 125, Workers’ Party v Tay Boon Too [1975] 1 MLJ 47 and Collins v Jones [1955] 2 All ER 145 followed.

(2) With regard to the second, third and fourth defendants, from an objective point of view, the two reports read as a whole did not appear to be capable of bearing any defamatory meaning and thus the statement of claim did not disclose a sufficient cause of action against them (see p 529B–D).

Per curiam

Even if there was a valid cause of action against the first defendant, the statement as reported fell short of being defamatory because there was no identification of the part of the statement which was alleged to be defamatory. Further, a statement is not defamatory merely because it caused damage to the plaintiff. It must either contain the defamatory allegation or the statement itself is false. The alleged statement considered in its natural and ordinary meaning was not capable of being defamatory as alleged and based upon the plaintiff’s answers in the interrogatories, could not be said to be untrue. Thus in the light of this, the plaintiff’s claim would also fail (see pp 527E, H–I and 528A–D); Astaire v Campling & Anor [1965] 3 All ER 666 followed.


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