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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Reporting an offence is not defamation

Whistleblowers cannot be sued for libel or slander, rules Federal Court

PUTRAJAYA: A person who complains about an alleged offence to enforcement agencies cannot be sued for defamation for lodging those reports, ruled the Federal Court.

The court held that such reports to agencies such as the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), the Commercial Crime Investigation Department (CCID) and the Registrar of Societies (RoS) are protected with absolute privilege.

The unanimous decision was made during the appeal brought by former Selangor Chin Woo Athletic Association president Datuk Dr Low Bin Tick.

Justice Aziah Ali said the three authorities in the case shared a common feature in which they were statutorily empowered with investigative powers.

“The purpose (of lodging a complaint) is to notify these authorities of alleged unlawful conduct and to set an investigation in motion and, if appropriate, to take the necessary action against the alleged wrongdoer,” said Justice Aziah yesterday.

The Bench set aside the decision by the Court of Appeal and the High Court. The lower courts had ordered Dr Low to pay RM500,000 in damages to another former Chin Woo president, Datuk Chong Tho Chin.

Yesterday, the Bench also awarded RM150,000 in costs to Dr Low.

Chong, who was Chin Woo president from 1991 to 2001, had filed four defamation suits at the High Court in 2007.

Chong claimed Dr Low, who was president from 2001 to 2005, had made unfounded and defamatory complaints regarding him in the letters to the three authorities in 2005.

The Federal Court said Dr Low’s letters to the authorities had alleged probable misuse of power, breach of trust, fraud and negligence.

“The common vein in these letters is the request for the authorities to carry out investigations and to take action, if appropriate,” Justice Aziah said.

On republication of a police report, the court held the issue did not arise for their consideration since it was not raised in the appeal.

But she said a person who repeats another’s defamatory statement without privilege may be held liable for republishing the same libel or slander.

The five-man Bench was led by Chief Judge of Malaya Justice Ahmad Maarop. Apart from Justice Aziah, also in the panel were Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Justice Richard Malanjum and Federal Court judges Justices Hasan Lah and Ramly Ali.

Source: The Star by Nurbaiti Hamdan

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