Federal Court to decide if appellate court can hear appeals from orders made during trial

  • Nation
  • Tuesday, 16 Jun 2015

PUTRAJAYA: A Federal Court has allowed Bintulu MP Datuk Seri Tiong King Sing to appeal in relation to the issue of confidentiality of source by a reporter in his defamation case.

Yesterday, Chief Justice Arifin Zakaria,who chaired a five-man panel, has granted leave to Tiong to raise a question of law in his appeal.

 In the panel are Court of Appeal president Justice Md Raus Sharif and Federal Court judges Justice Abdull Hamid Embong, Justice Hasan Lah and Justice Abu Samah Nordin.

 The Federal Court will now hear and decide on whether the Court of Appeal has jurisdiction to hear appeals in any civil matters from any orders made in the course of the trial.

Tiong has appealed against the order made in the trial of his defamation suit at a High Court which dismissed his application for a reporter to reveal the sources of a story.

The High Court judge rejected a first attempt by Tiong to force reporter Joseph Sipalan to reveal his source by threatening to have the writer cited for contempt of court if he refused to do so.

A Court of Appeal had last year thrown out a second attempt by Tiong to compel Sipalan, who is now Malay Mail Online reporter,  to reveal the source.

As a result of the judgment, Sipalan need not reveal the sources of his story in a defamation case filed by Tiong against former Pandan MP Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat.

In the written decision dated Nov 30 2013, trial judge 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.

Court of Appeal judge Justice Azahar Mohamed, who chaired a three-man panel on Aug 29, last year held that Tiong’s appeal was incompetent as he had appealed against a “procedural ruling”. Under the law, any appeal must be based on a final judgment of a court and not on procedural rulings made within the trial.

Justice Azahar had ordered the trial of the defamation suit to proceed before the same High Court judge.

On Tuesday,Tiong's lead counsel Porres Royan argued that Sipalan's evidence on his source was fundamental for the defamation suit.

"If he (Sipalan) says (his source is) not Ong and somebody else, it is end of the case," added Royan.

Sipalan's lawyer Bhag Singh, however, argued that the procedural order was not appealable.

Ong's counsel Chan Tse Yuen argued that the bid was an exercise in futility.

Speaking to reporters later, Tiong's co-counsel Prem Ramachandran said that so far, two witnesses – Tiong and Sipalan – had testified in the trial of the defamation suit.

Justice Lau, in her decision earlier, said Sipalan had given an undertaking to preserve confidentiality in relation to the sources of information.

She also said a journalist owed a duty to other journalists not to imperil their future prospects of obtaining information.

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.

When met by reporters, Chan said if Tiong succeeded in his bid at the Federal Court, the matter would be remitted to the Court of Appeal to hear the merits over the importance to compel Sipalan to reveal his source.

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