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Lee Hsien Yang ordered to pay S$200,000 each to Shanmugam and Vivian Balakrishnan for defamation

CONCLUSIONS OF THE JUDGE

Judge Goh said in his ruling on Friday that he was satisfied that Lee had “consciously chosen not to respond” to the claims.

Because Lee cannot contest his liability for defamation as he did not appear or find a lawyer to represent him in the assessment of damages, Judge Goh said he had to decide the case on the basis of the plaintiffs’ case in the absence of any compensatory material that Mr. Lee might have submitted.

Justice Goh said the plaintiffs here are “long-serving cabinet ministers and members of parliament.”

“They are public leaders and people of the highest integrity who undoubtedly have high prestige. Therefore, this is a factor that points towards the granting of greater compensation,” he added.

Lee is also “well known in Singapore”, with more than 89,000 followers on Facebook, a factor that points to higher damages, the judge said, agreeing with the ministers’ arguments.

Judge Goh also found that Lee had “acted with malice” in publishing the offending words, justifying not only greater damages but also aggravated damages.

“Based on the evidence before me, I find that the accused knew that the offending words were false, that he published them recklessly and/or without considering or caring whether they were true or not,” Justice Goh said.

He said evidence shows Mr Lee’s publication came after the CPIB investigation no longer found any preferential treatment given to ministers over the Ridout Road properties.

“The CPIB investigation also established that there was no evidence that the plaintiffs had abused their position for personal gain. This is because the trees were felled with the approval of the National Parks Board, and the works that the SLA had carried out at 26 and 31 Ridout Road as the owner was required to make them safe and habitable in accordance with conservation guidelines,” Justice Goh said.

“Therefore, the work carried out by the SLA prior to handover was consistent with its general practices and comparable to that carried out on similar properties.”

In determining the appropriate amount of compensation, Justice Goh referred to past defamation cases involving the Cabinet or prime ministers.

General and aggravated damages awarded to a prime minister have ranged between “$230,000 and $260,000 in the 1980s and amounts exceeding $300,000 in the last 20 years,” the judge noted.

In addition to damages, he ordered Mr Lee to pay costs of S$51,000 to each minister.

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