Judge recuses himself in Bintulu MP's appeal over revealing reporter's sources in defamation case

  • Nation
  • Wednesday, 29 Jan 2014

PUTRAJAYA: Court of Appeal judge Justice Linton Albert has recused himself from hearing an appeal by Bintulu MP Datuk Seri Tiong King Sing in relation to a defamation suit.

Tiong has appealed against the decision of the High Court last year which dismissed his application to compel reporter Joseph Sipalan to reveal the sources in a story he had written.

Justice Albert, who chaired a three-man panel, told the parties that he has recused himself from hearing the appeal as the plaintiff (Tiong) in the defamation suit was known to him.

“We are friends,” Justice Albert, who sat together with Court of Appeal judges Justices Aziah Ali and Anantham Kasinather, told the parties today.

Justice Albert said another panel would hear the appeal on March 4.

Lawyer Prem Ramachandran, who acted for Tiong, lawyer Bhag Singh who appeared for Sipalan, and counsel Chan Tse Yuen, who appeared for former MCA president Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat, all agreed.

In the written judgment dated Nov 30 last year, Justice Lau Bee Lan held that it would be more in the public interest for the court not to order Sipalan to disclose the sources.

Justice Lau had said this was following Sipalan having given an undertaking to preserve confidentiality in relation to the sources of information.

Justice Lau had also said that it a journalist owes a duty to other journalist not to imperil their future prospects of obtaining information.

She said if disclosure is made, the journalist may imperil his own position.

Justice Lau ruled that the protection is accorded on a case-to-case basis through a balancing of interest exercised by the court premised on the test of necessity in the interest of justice when deciding whether to order a journalist to disclose his or her source.

She said that the approach to be adopted when a journalist is asked in the course of the trial for his source of information is:

“There is a residual discretion in the court in that while the journalist has no privilege entitling him as of right to refuse to disclose the source, so I think  the interrogator has no absolute right to require such disclosure,” she said in her 28-page judgment.

Justice Lau had ordered Tiong to pay RM15,000 in costs to reporter Joseph Sipalan and RM5,000 to Ong.

Tiong had filed an application to compel Sipalan, who was then a New Straits Times reporter to disclose his sources in the article, which is the subject matter in the defamation suit filed by Tiong against Ong.

The article, written by Sipalan with the heading “Chua and Tiong in Cahoots?” was published in the New Sunday Times on Sept 6, 2009.

Sipalan, 31, had testified that he was the writer of the article, and had seven to eight people as his sources.

However, Sipalan had refused to reveal their identities on the grounds that he had promised the sources that their identities would be kept in confidence.

This had led Prem to warn Sipalan that he could be cited for contempt of court and filed the application to reveal his sources.

Tiong had originally filed a suit on Oct 12, 2009, against The New Straits Times Press Bhd, its group editor Datuk Syed Nadzri Syed Harun, its then reporter Sipalan and Ong. He later withdrew his claim against NSTP and the two other parties.

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