THE Court of Appeal yesterday reserved judgment on a case that is crucial for the Workers’ Party and its two MPs, Mr J.B. Jeyaretnam and Mr Low Thia Khiang.
The party, its chief, Mr Jeyaretnam, and veteran member, Mr A. Balakrishnan, are appealing against last December’s High Court judgment asking them to pay S$265,000 in damages for defaming 10 members of the committee that organised the first Tamil Language Week from April 8, 1995.
The plaintiffs, who won their defamation suit, have filed a petition to wind up the party on the grounds that it is insolvent and cannot pay $511,643 in damages and legal costs. They also filed a second petition to make Mr Jeyaretnam, a Non-Constituency MP, a bankrupt.
Hearing of the petitions is likely to be delayed until the outcome of the appeal. If the three appellants lose their appeal and if the petition to wind up the party succeeds, both Mr Jeyaretnam and Mr Low, MP for Hougang, are likely to lose their seats in Parliament.
Some lawyers say the Constitution does not allow an MP to remain in Parliament if he ceases to be a member of the party that put him up for election.
The 10 committee members, including People’s Action Party MP R. Ravindran, said they were defamed in a Tamil article by Mr Balakrishnan in the party’s newsletter, The Hammer, edited by Mr Jeyaretnam.
They claimed they were depicted as government stooges.
Mr H.E. Cashin, the appellants’ lawyer, argued yesterday that there was nothing defamatory in the article, which did not refer specifically to members of the committee.
He added that Mr Jeyaretnam, who does not read or write Tamil, had nothing to do with what was written.
The lawyer for the plaintiffs, Mr Liew Teck Huat, said that the message in the article was that the committee members were “nakedly prostituting themselves” to seek political gains or office.
“This is the sting of the defamation. Nothing can be more defamatory,” he said.