Chong to pay RM100K in costs following dismissal of review application by Federal Court

A statue of Lady Justice. — file pic. // Photo: Pixabay

KUCHING, Feb 12: Sarawak Democratic Action Party (DAP) chief Chong Chieng Jen today failed in his bid to have a Federal Court judgment delivered on Sept 26, 2018 reviewed and overturned.

The Federal Court had in 2018 upheld a majority decision of the Court of Appeal that words – “the State budget for the past 7 years …. a sum of RM10 billion mysteriously disappear into this blackhole … and the State does not have money because state money going somewhere else” – published by Chong by some media houses, were capable of a defamatory meaning and thus, that the Government of Sarawak and the State Financial Authority could sue Chong for defamation.

The Federal Court ordered that the High Court should determine if he had any defence and assess the amount of damages to be paid to the State Government and State Financial Authority.

Dissatisfied with the Federal Court judgment against him, Chong applied for a review of that judgment by the Federal Court on the ground that the judgment violated Article 10 of Federal Constitution which guaranteed freedom of speech if the Government could sue its citizens for defamation.

The State Government argued that the application for review was a guise to appeal against earlier judgment of the Federal Court on the ground that its earlier decision was wrong. The Federal Court had no power to hear appeals against its own decision.

The Federal Court sitting in Putrajaya, presided by Court of Appeal President, Rohana Yusuf, sitting with Federal Judges Abang Iskandar Abang Hashim, Nallini Pathmanathan, Vernon Ong Lam Kiat and Zaleha Yusuf, unanimously agreed there was no merit in the application and that the Federal Court could not review its own decision.

The Application was dismissed with costs of RM100,000.00 to be paid by Chong who is also Deputy Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister to the Sarawak Government and State Financial Authority.

The case will now be mentioned in the Kuching High Court on 19 February 2020 to fix date to decide whether Chong has any defence since the objectionable words are found by the appellate Courts to be capable of a defamatory meaning, and thereafter for assessment of damages.

On April 3, 2013 the State Government and State Financial Authority (i.e. State Financial Secretary) sued Chong in Kuching High Court for defamation for publishing the said objectionable words in the media on 3 January, 2013.

The State Government pleaded that the words in their ordinary meaning meant that the State Government and its Financial Authority, through the budgetary process, had caused billions of Ringgit to be siphoned off for the benefit of cronies of members of the Government and their families.

The High Court, Court of Appeal and the Federal Court found the objectionable words capable of a defamatory meaning. The Appellate Courts also ruled that under section 3 of the Government Proceedings Act, 1956, the Government of Sarawak and its financial authority can sue Chong for defamation.

The high costs awarded against Chong of RM100,000.00, according to the Federal Court was because the application for review was dismissed. Legal observers believed that the Judges wanted to provide a message to the legal practitioners that applications for judicial review should only be made when there are exceptional grounds.

Chong was represented by Ranjit Singh and Chan Kok Keong from the Malayan Bar, assisted by Chong Siew Chiang and Carol Lua. The State Legal Counsel, JC Fong assisted by Mohd Azdrul Azlan, Voon Yan Sin and Evy Liana Batang appeared for the State Government and State Financial Authority. —DayakDaily