By AHMAD OSMAN
THE Court of Appeal delivered a judgment yesterday that will pave the way for 10 people to pursue their petition to wind up the Workers’ Party.
It dismissed, with costs, an appeal by the party, its leader J. B. Jeyaretnam and veteran member A. Balakrishnan, against an order for them to pay $265,000 in damages for defaming the committee that organised the first Tamil Language Week in April 1995.
The 10 committee members were described as government stooges in an article in Tamil written by Mr Balakrishnan.
It was published in the August 1995 issue of the WP newsletter, The Hammer. Mr Jeyaretnam is its editor.
The 10 who sued include Mr R. Ravindran, a People’s Action Party MP in Bukit Timah GRC.
They are seeking to wind up the Workers’ Party on the grounds that it is insolvent and cannot pay them $511,643 in damages and legal costs.
The hearing of that petition has been adjourned indefinitely and they are looking at other ways to collect their money.
They have also filed bankruptcy petitions against Mr Jeyaretnam and Mr Balakrishnan, who is an insurance agent.
If they proceed with the winding-up action against the party and succeed, Mr Jeyaretnam, a Non-Constituency MP, and Mr Low Thia Khiang, who is MP for Hougang, may lose their seats in Parliament.
Some lawyers say the law 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.
In their appeal, the defendants argued that the article was not defamatory, and did not refer specifically to the plaintiffs, and that Mr Jeyaretnam, who did not read or write Tamil, was not responsible for what was written.
The three-judge Court of Appeal, headed by Chief Justice Yong Pung How, dismissed the arguments.
They ruled that the sting in the article was in the statement asking committee members not to “prostitute nakedly” to gain political office.
The judges also noted that Tamil Language Week was publicised widely in the media, which interviewed the plaintiffs.
Their names were also published in the letterhead used by the committee.
A reasonable person who knew the plaintiffs would conclude that they were the ones referred to in the article, said the judges.
In their written judgment, they said that although Mr Balakrishnan was in charge of the Tamil section of The Hammer, Mr Jeyaretnam was the general editor and knew what articles would be written for the newsletter.
He was involved in approving the subjects of the articles, decided what should be published and also appointed the people responsible for vetting articles in different languages.
Said the judges: “If such sub-editors fail to perform their job adequately, the general editor cannot evade responsibility by saying he had delegated it to others.”