Can political parties sue individuals for defamatory statements?
Lim Lip Eng v Ong Ka Chuan (as a public officer of a society registered as Malaysian Chinese Association)  MLJU 762 – FEDERAL COURT
[CIVIL APPEAL NO. 02(i)-25-03 OF 2020(W)]
- Lim Lip Eng (“Appellant”) was at the material time a Member of Parliament for Segambut Constituency. Ong Ka Chuan (“Respondent”) is a public officer of a society registered as Malaysia Chinese Association (MCA).
- In July 2017, the Respondent, on behalf of MCA, filed a defamation suit in his capacity as a public officer against the Appellant over remarks made at a press conference at the Parliament building in 2016 over allegations that the party had used government funds allocated for Chinese vernacular schools. The Respondent claimed that the Appellant’s remarks seriously injured MCA’s reputation, adding that the party was seeking RM100 million in general and exemplary damages.
- The Appellant filed an application to strike out the suit on the basis that MCA being a political party does not have the locus standi or the right to sue for defamation.
- The High Court rejected the Appellant’s application to strike out the suit. Subsequently, the Appellant lost his appeal at the Court of Appeal. Hence this present appeal to the Federal Court.
FEDERAL COURT DECISION – APPEAL ALLOWED!
- The Federal Court ruled that political parties cannot sue individuals for defamation.
- There are two major elements that were raised by the Federal Court in coming to its decision.
- The first element is on the issue of locus standi. The Federal Court was of the view that a political party, which is a registered society, is not a legal entity by itself which can sue and be sued in its own name. MCA is a mere political party which is dependent on its members to take action.
- The second element is on the issue of public interest. The Federal Court held that a political party relies on the public to get their votes to be in power. The political party puts itself forward for office or to govern and be responsible for public administration. It is not right nor is it in the public interest to put the public in fear of a defamation suit and prevent them from expressing their views or making criticisms or voicing out opinion.
- The Federal Court held that to allow this to happen definitely goes against the true value of democracy.
- The political party can always “answer back through public announcements”, press conferences or press statements or such similar social media posts.