Building A New Malaysia | Institutional Reforms |
The Government Proceedings Act 1956
Posted on September 29, 2018
Calls to Review and Reform the GPA to Protect Freedom of Speech
In a judgement on September 26, the Federal Court upheld the 2016 judgment by the Court of Appeal and dismissed an appeal by former Kuching MP Chong Chieng Jen to strike out the defamation suit against him by the Sarawak state government. The landmark judgement in 2016 by The Court of Appeal ruled that under Section 3 of the Government Proceedings Act 1956 (GPA) that the state government can sue Chong for defamation.
Legal professionals and politicians from both PH and the opposition have called for a review and amendment of the act. The government announced that a committee will be formed to review the GPA.
What is the lawsuit about?
In 2013 the Sarawak government and the state Financial Authority filed a defamation suit against Chong over a statement that he made alleging the state of misappropriating RM11bil in the allocations and spending of state funds and the statement was published in a Chinese daily, online portal and also distributed through pamphlets.
In April 2014 the Kuching High Court ruled that the government and the state Financial Authority did not have the right to sue for defamation under common law, Order 14A of the Rules of Court, 2012.
The state government appealed to The Court of Appeal who ruled that under Section 3(1)(c) of the Civil Law Act and Section 3 of the Government Proceedings Act, the state government has the right, similar to that of a private citizen to sue another private citizen for defamation. Chong was ordered to pay damages. Chong applied to the Federal Court to strike out the Court of Appeal’s judgement.
The inconsistent application of the Derbyshire principle by the Court of Appeal
Chong appealed to Federal Court in respect of the legal question if whether Section 3 of the Government Proceedings Act 1956 and Section 3 (1) (c) of the Civil Law Act 1956 preclude the English case law principle in the Derbyshire County Council vs Times Newspapers Ltd which states that local authorities could not institute libel action. The latest decision, the Federal Court ruled that the Derbyshire principle is not applicable as there are existing laws available, including the GPA.
Within the same year of the Court of Appeal’s decision on Chong’s suit, two similar defamation suits by the public authorities against the media were struck out. The appellate court had applied the Derbyshire principle which forbids public authorities from bringing legal actions for defamation in two cases. The court struck out the two suits against the media by former Pahang Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob and former Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng.
What are the concerns of the Federal Court’s ruling?
The recent Federal Court’s decision to uphold the appellate court’s ruling is affirming the rights of the both the federal and state government to sue an individual for defamation.
Both the recent and earlier judgement has caused concerns as it implies that the GPA, a 62-year old statute, provides the government with an avenue to stifle public criticism and limits the freedom of speech of citizen to voice their concerns. This is viewed by legal professionals and some members of both the opposition and ruling government as a big step backwards in the new government’s efforts in creating a more democratic new Malaysia.
It did not help to calm the public’s fears that a day after the Federal Court’s judgement, the Finance Minister sounded out that he would bring on more libel suits against parties that “defame” him.
If the then BN-led government had used this rule of law against the early authors of the 1MDB expose to silent them, we would still be living in ignorant bliss of country’s billions being squandered away by a few individuals and proper investigation into the scandal to bring the perpetrators to justice would not have been possible. The act to defame is not correct, publication of unverified sources of news by the media is irresponsible, but to provide a tool to corrupt public authorities to silent the public is not the reform that Malaysians have voted for.
Calls for the Government Proceedings Act 1956 (GPA) Review and Amendment
This is not the first call for the amendment of the GAP that allows the public authorities to bring legal actions against the public for defamation. Back in 2016, after the first landmark ruling on Chong’s case, legal professionals and activists had called for reviews of the act, but to no avail. Is the new PH government that champions freedom or the press, freedom of speech and a more democratic Malaysia, listen to the calls and initiate change to amend the act or find the best middle-way to protect the public and also punish malicious slanderers?
Two days after the judgement, the government announced that a committee will be formed to review the GPA.
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