17 October 2017
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Members of chess body lose appeal to strike out suit

Straits Times
12 Oct 2017
K.C. Vijayan

Judge says defamation suit was no abuse of process and is a matter for a trial to settle

A judge has thrown out an appeal by 24 members of the Singapore Chess Federation (SCF) which argued that a suit filed by its treasurer Jasmin Nisban over a letter he claimed had defamed him should be struck out as an abuse of the court process.

Justice Choo Han Teck said such claims are matters for a trial to settle. In judgment grounds on Monday, he said: "Where else can the plaintiff seek redress and justice if his claim is struck out?"

Mr Nisban had claimed that 39 members of the federation had libelled him in January last year, and sued them. The alleged offending remarks were found in a letter attached to a requisition which 51 members signed. The letter was sent to the SCF executive committee calling for an extraordinary general meeting (EOGM).

After Mr Nisban filed a suit against the 39 members, 24 of them successfully applied to strike out the suit before a deputy registrar in the State Courts in February.

The courts agreed to strike out then, ruling that there was no "substantial tort" against Mr Nisban, the benefit was minimal to him and his suit was an abuse of process.

Mr Nisban then appealed and a district judge in June restored the suit.

At the High Court appeal hearing in September, their lawyer Wong Tjen Wee had argued that the trivial nature of the claim was disproportionate to the action, citing an English precedent. He added that the only recipients of the defamatory letter were the executive committee members and administrative staff, and they would have disbelieved the libel against Mr Nisban.

Rajah & Tann lawyers led by Mr Lau Kok Keng, who represented Mr Nisban at the appeal, argued that the letter had reached 51 recipients but the issue was not in the numbers.

Justice Choo ruled that each case "must turn on its own facts", noting that the defamatory words were found in a letter circulated among SCF members seeking signatures to expel the incumbent executive committee through an EOGM.

"This letter was signed by 51 members. We do not know how many others read it but did not sign.

"The crux of the matter is that although the court's resources ought not to be used for the pursuit of trivial or pointless claims, each case must be determined on its own facts," said Justice Choo.

It was "speculative" to argue that the recipients referred to would not have believed the libel against Mr Nisban, pointing out it was more relevant to damages payable when liability is settled.

The judge dismissed the appeal with costs.

Mr Nisban had claimed that 39 members of the federation had libelled him in January last year, and sued them. The alleged offending remarks were found in a letter attached to a requisition which 51 members signed.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Chan Boon Siang and others v Jasmin Nisban [2017] SGHC 249