Former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew has commenced many defamation suits in Singapore. He like many others have initiated legal proceedings against those who make false comments that affect his reputation.

Being the target of untruthful or false comments is hurtful and infuriating. The spotlight is on you, and your reputation is on the line. It’s especially worst when what has been said affects your life or business. There are laws in Singapore that protect you from such comments. But first, what is defamation?

What is Defamation?

Defamation is classified as a criminal offence under Section 499 of the Penal Code, it is defined as “words either spoken or intended to be read, or by signs, or by visible representations, or any imputation concerning any person, intending to harm… is said to defame that person.” In other words, it is the action of ruining the reputation of a person, company, product or nation. Defamation also includes libel (written words) and slander (spoken words). All forms of defamation give the victim the right to engage a lawyer and sue.

Criteria for Suing for Defamation

To be found liable for defamation, three conditions must be met.

  1. The statement in question must be false and defamatory. A statement is defamatory if it lowers the victim’s reputation and causes his social suffering (e.g. causes the victim to be ostracised, ridiculed or scorned).
  2. The statement in question must refer to the victim by name or picture. If the victim can be unmistakably identified in the libelous/slandering statement, this constitutes as tort of defamation.
  3. The statement in question must be published or communicated to a third party. To show supporting evidence that the statement has been publically read, shared and/or circulating, the victim might view the audience size with a viewer counter. This is an important number to present to the Court because audience size helps to quantify the damages. Thus the larger the audience, the greater the damage.

Aside from the mode and extent of publication of the defamatory statements, the Court also factors in the nature and gravity of the defamation, the standing and conduct of the parties, the quantifying damage of the publication, and the effect of the defamation on the plaintiff.

What are your remedies for Defamation?

The Court may award monetary damages and/or an injunction against the statement maker.

While monetary compensation may be able to ease the pains of having your reputation ruined, it is worth taking note that the amount of compensation depends on the extent of the damage done to your reputation which will vary from case to case.

The Court may also instate an injunction to restrain a defendant from doing an act. There are two types in the context of defamation: prohibitory and interim/interlocutory. Prohibitory injunctions are Court orders to stop the publishing of future defamatory statements. Interim/Interlocutory injunctions force the statement maker to retract the statement.

What defences are there to defamation?

The defence can claim that the defamatory remark was unintentional and that it was published “innocently in relation to that other person.” In order to justify what is perceived as a defamatory statement and defend it as a fair comment, the statement maker must prove that the statement was:

  • An expression of an opinion
  • The opinion was of a relatively unbiased person
  • Based on true facts; and
  • Related to a matter of public interest

What about apologies?

The statement maker may make an “Offer of Amends.” In making an Offer of Amends, the statement maker must have proof that his defamatory statement was made innocently and an issue a public apology that also informs the recipients of the statement that its contents were defamatory.

If the offer is accepted by the party aggrieved and duly performed, the statement maker will no longer have to go to Court to settle a lawsuit. On the other hand, if the offer is not accepted, the statement maker must go to Court to prove the statement of question were published innocently and that the offer was made as soon as practicable after the defendant received notice that they were or might be insulting/defamatory.

If an apology is not enough

If the statement is not defamatory but has very damaging effects, the victim may still have grounds to sue the person who published the statement under the tort of malicious falsehood. For example, if a blogger rumoured that XYZ soda company was the sole cause of his family members’ deaths, though the comment is false, it may cause the profit of the company to nose dive. In which case, XYZ soda may sue the person who posted the lie.

Can I sue a defaming statement-maker if he or she does not live in Singapore?

Yes. If the foreigner is located in Singapore or has agreed for Singapore to be the appropriate jurisdiction for legal proceedings to take place, then issues of jurisdiction are relatively straightforward. In these cases, the Court has full jurisdiction, so the foreigner or foreign company can be served with process in the same way as a Singaporean or Singaporean company would be.

What if the person who defamed me lives in Singapore but did so while he or she was abroad?

Yes, you may sue. An example case in which this happened was in Low Tuck Kwong v Sukamto Sia (2012) SCHC 233. Although the principal events surrounding the defamation and falsehood action occurred in Indonesia, the plaintiff brought the action to Singapore, where both parties are residents.

How we can assist you

Reputation is something that takes years to build up and can be ruined overnight. Having someone defame you is something that should not be taken lightly. The effects of defamation are long lasting and take significant effort to overcome. Should you find yourself in such a position, our team of experienced lawyers will be able to explain to you your various legal remedies and how to protect your reputation.

We strive to take care of our clients no matter the case. Your first consultation with us is typically free, and we wish to assist you. Please don’t hesitate to contact us at [email protected] or call at +65 6589 8913.