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Court rejects magazine's application for international lawyer in libel case

(SEAPA/IFEX) - The Singapore High Court has rejected a regional periodical's application for a Queen's Counsel from the United Kingdom to represent the magazine in a defamation lawsuit brought against it by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his father, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew.

The Hong Kong-based "Far Eastern Economic Review" had sought to hire libel specialist Gavin Millar, but Justice Tan Lee Meng ruled on 1 June 2007 that the suit was "not sufficiently difficult and complex" and hence will not require the services of a Queen's Counsel.

The judge said past admission of the Queen's Counsel in defamation cases does not justify their continued admission. The magazine has one month to appeal against the decision.

On 22 August 2006, the Lees filed a suit against "Far Eastern Economic Review" editor Hugo Restall and owners Review Publishing over a July/August 2006 article based on an interview with opposition leader Dr Chee Soon Juan. The article highlighted authoritarian rule in Singapore and questioned whether libel suits were deliberately used to suppress dissent.

A 3 August 2006 notice from the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts asking the magazine to post a bond of S$200,000 (approx. US$127,200) and appoint a local legal representative was a harbinger of the libel suit to come. Four other foreign publications were served the same notices to comply with the media regulations, from which all five had been previously exempted.

The "Far Eastern Economic Review" did not comply with the ministry directives, leading to a ban on its distribution in Singapore in September 2006. The magazine is still accessible to Singaporeans online.

Meanwhile, a separate challenge from the "Far Eastern Economic Review", on the Singapore courts' jurisdiction to hear the defamation suits, is scheduled to be heard at the Court of Appeal in July 2007.

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