Tired of being the laughing stock of the developed world, London is finally giving up its antiquated libel laws.
What does that portend for Singapore, which inherited these ridiculous libel laws?
Will PAP ever give up these laws? Or do they want Singapore to be the next laughing stock of the developed world?
PAP has mellowed a lot in the last few years. They granted Chee a discharge from his bankruptcy in return for a fraction of the award. They don’t sue as frequently as they used to, not even when they’re called names or their competency is called into question. Nowadays they have really only sued when there are insinuations of financial impropriety, illegal wrongdoing or cover-up, or when their personal integrity have been called into question (eg allegations of marital infidelity against Shanmugam).
Nevertheless, the threat of libel suits remains a crucial worry, not only in the minds of politicians, but also in the minds of social activists, bloggers and other writers. While not dismissing the importance of providing a legal avenue for people to clear their names and protect their reputation, I think it would a step forward for Singapore to remove the huge awards of damages that typically follow a successful libel suit.
The purpose of suing is to clear one’s reputation, not to enrich oneself. In fact, PAP ministers have regularly donated their awards to charity, just to emphasise this point. However, such large awards have the undesirable side-effect of bankrupting opposition politicians and barring them from elections, which does not give PAP politicians much moral high ground as their opponents sit out the elections due to bankruptcy.
Lee and Goh have paved the way by their magnanimous decision to accept Chee’s settlement and in so doing, set a precedent for other PAP politicians. I only hope the PAP itself can go further by putting a cap on libel damages, so that Singapore does not succeed London’s position as the laughing stock of the developed world.