Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has applied for summary judgement in his lawsuit against Roy Ngerng. Amid the misinformed outcry about such a move, it would be useful to explain in layman terms how this comes about.
Before we go into details, here are some legal terms to get familiar with:
The person suing is called a plaintiff.
The person being sued is a defendant.
In PM v Ngerng, the PM is the plaintiff and Ngerng is the defendant.
A plaintiff’s case is set out in a statement called the “Statement of Claim“.
In an action for defamation, the Statement of Claim must contain facts to the effect that (1) the defendant made a statement and (2) the statement is defamatory.
If the defamation had been spoken rather than written, the Statement of Claim must also state that the plaintiff suffered damages. However, if the defamation is written (including electronically), the Statement of Claim does not have to state this.
Now, if the plaintiff fails to state both items i.e. that (1) the defendant made a statement and (2) the statement is defamatory, the defendant could have applied for what is similar to a summary judgement – to have the lawsuit thrown out without a trial.
On the defendant’s side, to contest the claim the defendant must claim ANY ONE OR MORE of the following (1) that he did not make the statement (2) the statement is not defamatory (3) the statement is the truth (4) the statement is absolutely privileged (i.e. made in Parliament or a court of law) (5) the statement was fair comment (6) the statement was made under circumstances which constituted qualified privilege (not relavant here).
If the defence claims any one of the 6 items, there would typically be a trial. However, if the defence does not state at least one of the 6 items required in a defence, then the plaintiff would be entitled to apply for summary judgement. The fact is that in PM v Ngerng, the Ngerng did not plead any of the 6 items. It is therefore his own fault that PM is entitled to apply for summary judgment.