August 20, 1997
South China Morning Post
PM's fury at being accused of lying
An infuriated Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong said yesterday he wished he could take legal action against a top British barrister who accused him of lying in a defamation case and charged that the Government was using the judiciary to stifle dissent.
"If I can, I will sue him," a red-faced Mr Goh told a packed courtroom when asked how he felt about being called a liar by Queen's Counsel George Carman, defending opposition leader J. B. Jeyaretnam.
"I think [being branded a liar] is an insult to the judiciary and to the Government," an enraged Mr Goh said when answering his lawyer, Thomas Shields, also a QC.
Mr Goh, 55, was the first to take the stand in the case which he, Senior Minister Lee Kwan Yew and nine other leaders of the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) brought against Mr Jeyaretnam, 71, leader of the Workers Party.
Mr Carman accused Mr Goh of "not being truthful to the court" and "exaggeration" after the premier gave evidence on events that followed an election-eve Workers Party rally on January 2 when Mr Jeyaretnam allegedly defamed the plaintiffs. The PAP scored a sweeping victory in the elections.
A legal expert, commenting on Mr Goh's court statement, said no one could take defamation action on statements made in court. "The point Mr Goh was trying to make, I think, is that if Mr Carman repeats the allegations outside the court, he will sue him," said the expert.
Mr Carman also suggested the Government was using an "artillery of multiple actions in the courtroom to obtain massive damages" from opposition politicians who would be made bankrupt if they could not pay up.
Mr Carman asked Mr Goh: "I suggest that this litigation is designed to bankrupt this man [Jeyaretnam] and keep him out of Parliament."
Mr Goh: "Your suggestion is groundless. He is no threat to us."
Mr Carman: "I put it to you that the court provides an instrument by which you can financially oppress your political opponents?"
Mr Goh: "How else can we vindicate ourselves?"
The plaintiffs contend Mr Jeyaretnam defamed them by telling the election rally his fellow Workers Party candidate, Tang Liang Hong, had filed two reports to the police after being branded an anti-Christian, Chinese chauvinist by PAP leaders.