KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian Bar has defended the rule that litigants should not state the amount for damages in defamation suits, saying it is a healthy law.
However, several lawyers feel that rule should be reviewed and exceptions be made for defamation suits.
Bar president Christopher Leong said it was good to not allow the plaintiff in such cases to quantify the amount for damages.
“When the plaintiff quantifies the damages in a manner wholly excessive in the statement of claim, it may be oppressive against the defendants and may become an instrument to threaten the defendants. You do not use your action as a way to threaten the defendants,” he said.
The question of reputation must be adduced by way of evidence and assessed by the court, Leong said, pointing out that there had been cases where the plaintiff specified a certain amount in defamation suits to threaten the defendant.
He was commenting on the action by certain parties who filed defamation suits with specified amounts although Order 18 Rule 12 (1A) of Rules of Court 2012, which came into force on Aug 1 last year, stated that no party shall quantify any claim or counterclaim for general damages.
Some lawyers preferred not to specify the amount but told the media during the filing of defamation suits that their clients were seeking millions of ringgit in their claims against the defendants.
Lawyer Jadadish Chandra agreed with Leong, saying it was not for the plaintiff to quantify the amount he intended to claim from the defendant without first proving his case.
“The amount to be awarded by the court should take into account the status of the plaintiff, mode of publication and extent of publication,” he said.
He added that the court needed to consider the facts of each case, which included the language used and extent of publication.
Lawyer Sankara Nair, who handled Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim's defamation cases, however, said the Rules Committee should review the rule on damages and make an exception in defamation cases.
“If the amount stated is big and a personality is involved, it will give an indication to the judge on the severity of the injury felt by the litigant,” he said.
Sankara said quantifying the amount of damages would show the seriousness, degree of defamation and intensity of their feelings over their reputation and to deter others from doing the same.
“It is an expression of anger and feeling of wanting vindication. Nothing is wrong with that. Defamation is injury to one's feelings as well,” he said.