High Court strikes out Leong Sze Hian’s counterclaim against PM Lee’s suit due to his failure to disclose a “reasonable cause of action”

The judge said that the counter-claim disclosed "no recognized cause of action in law, let alone a reasonable one"

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The High Court has struck out blogger Leong Sze Hian’s counterclaim against Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, due to Mr Leong’s failure to disclose a “reasonable cause of action” in his counterclaim.

PM Lee earlier filed a defamation claim against Mr Leong, for sharing on Facebook an article alleging that PM Lee played a part in laundering money from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). The article, which was not written by Mr Leong, garnered 22 reactions, five comments and 18 shares.

Mr Leong is fighting the claim against him in court and filed a counterclaim against PM Lee for “abusing the process of the court in bringing the claim against me.” PM Lee’s lawyer Davinder Singh applied to strike out the counterclaim by Leong, before Mr Leong applied to strike out PM Lee’s original defamation claim against him.

After hearing the striking out applications by both parties last month, Justice Aedit Abdullah delivered his judgment on Tuesday (12 Mar) and struck out Mr Leong’s counterclaim. He said:

 “A ‘reasonable cause of action’ is one that has ‘some chance of success when only the allegations in the pleading are considered’. A claim based on a cause of action that is not recognised at law will be struck out for disclosing no reasonable cause of action.

“Accordingly, as the defendant’s counterclaim discloses no recognised cause of action [in the law], let alone a reasonable one, it should be struck out.”

In delivering his judgment, Justice Aedit Abdullah, cited the apex court’s decision in Lee Tat Development Pte Ltd v Management Corporation Strata Title Plan No 301 [2018] 2 SLR 866, which “rejected the tort of abuse of process as a recognised cause of action”.

PM Lee’s defence against Mr Leong’s counterclaim pointed to the apex court’s decision in the Lee Tat case as it argued that Mr Leong “did not disclose a reasonable cause of action”.

Justice Aedit Abdullah asserted that he would be undermining “the principle of finality in the law, by encouraging unnecessary satellite litigation and prolonging disputes,” open “the floodgates of litigation,” and create “a chilling effect on regular litigation” if he allows Mr Leong’s claim on the grounds of tort of abuse of process.

Arguing that this is an exceptional case because it involves the alleged “abuse of a public function” on PM Lee’s part for the purpose of “restraining freedom of expression in the private sphere,” Mr Leong asked the judge to re-evaluate the apex court’s position in the Lee Tat case regarding the existence of the tort of abuse of process in Singapore law.

Justice Aedit Abdullah rejected the request

The judge also rejected Mr Leong’s argument and cited part of the Court of Appeal’s decision in Lee Tat:

[161] … [W]e do not recognise the tort of abuse of process in Singapore … there are ample legal mechanisms within the existing rules of civil procedure that afford innocent parties adequate legal remedies in the event that there is indeed an abuse of process by the party concerned on the other side. For this reason alone, it is clear that the appeal on this particular issue must fail simply because … [the appellant’s] claim cannot even take off since the legal basis upon which it premises that claim does not exist. [emphasis in original]

The Judge said: “I am satisfied that the Court of Appeal’s decision in Lee Tat is binding on me and that the doctrine of stare decisis [the doctrine of precedent, or following previous decisions from similar cases in the past] applies. Lee Tat precludes the defendant’s counterclaim from succeeding.”

The Judge added that he does “not see anything in the Court of Appeal’s judgement which leaves room for the tort of abuse process to be recognised as a possible control” against “the misuse of public functions or powers”.