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LOSS OF REPUTATION DUE TO DEFAMATORY STATEMENTS

By:


Bryan Lui (Co-Managing Partner) [bryanlui@luibhullar.com]

Harneshpal Karamjit Singh (Co-Managing Partner) [harnesh@luibhullar.com]




In recent Malaysia's topical case of Dato Sri Lai Cha Suang @ Jessy Lai & Mon Space (M) Sdn Bhd -v- Lim Lip Eng, High Court Judge Haji Akhtar Tahir stated the following:-


This case involves the Plaintiffs claiming damages for loss of reputation due to defamatory statements made by the Defendant against them.


The Plaintiffs include an individual and a company owned by the individual. The Defendant is a Member of Parliament and a member of the Democratic Action Party.


The Plaintiffs allege that Defendant made five defamatory statements and instigated Chinese Nationals to lodge police reports against them.


The statements accuse the Plaintiffs of bribery, illegal activities, illegal money transactions, and involvement in a Ponzi scheme. The Court finds that the Defendant did make the statements and that they are defamatory, as they accuse the Plaintiffs of serious criminal offenses.


Defendant raises defenses of justification, fair comment, and qualified privilege but fails to provide sufficient evidence to support these defenses. The Court rules in favor of the Plaintiffs, finding the Defendant liable for defamation and awards damages to compensate for the harm caused to the Plaintiffs' reputation.


The Court emphasizes the seriousness of the allegations, the negative impact on the Plaintiffs' business and the country's image, and the need for deterrence against making unverified statements.


The Court acknowledges that negative publicity can have significant consequences for businesses and even the entire country, especially when it involves foreign nationals. By siding with foreign nationals without proper verification and completion of the investigation, Defendant has disregarded his role as the guardian of the nation and his constituents in his capacity as a Member of Parliament.


The Court also believes that as a Member of Parliament, Defendant should exercise greater responsibility in his speech and actions. He cannot act recklessly without considering the consequences. Although he may not have physically harmed anyone, his words have certainly damaged the reputation of the Plaintiffs. [Refer to the case of Lembaga Tatatertib Perkhidmatan Awam, Hospital Besar Pulau Pinang v. Ultra badi a/l K Perumal [2001] 2 CLJ 525; [2003] 3 MLJ 281]


The Court further feels that in this case, the awarded damages should serve as a deterrent. This is not meant to suppress freedom of speech and expression but rather to discourage individuals from making unwarranted and unsubstantiated statements, particularly in the age of widespread social media use.


The phrase "See you in court" appears to have become a trendy statement rather than something to be feared.


Finally, the Court considered the Defendant's lack of remorse and combative attitude as significant factors in this case. Despite the Plaintiffs' gracious offer to settle the matter without a full trial, Defendant rejected this request. The Court expects responsibility from the Defendant as a Member of Parliament and highlights the damaging effect of his words. The awarded damages aim to discourage unwarranted statements.


In summary, Defamation cases are on the rise, driven by factors such as the widespread use of social media, online platforms and the value placed on reputation in today's connected society, increased awareness of legal rights, and the financial implications involved.


Social media provides a platform for the rapid spread of false statements that harm reputations, prompting individuals to seek legal redress. In a society where reputation has far-reaching consequences, individuals are more inclined to use the legal system to restore their reputation and address the damage caused.


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