PUTRAJAYA: Complaints lodged to Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), Commercial Crime investigation Department (CCID) and Registrar of Societies (RoS) are protected by absolute privilege, just like police reports, the Federal Court held.
A five-man bench, led by Chief Judge of Malaya Tan Sri Ahmad Maarop, made the unanimous decision after ruling that the three agencies share a common feature in that they are statutorily empowered with investigative powers.
Federal Court judge Datuk Wira Aziah Ali, who read out the judgement, said the three authorities could take appropriate action under the law against those who have breached the respective legislation applicable to them.
"Similar considerations govern the lodging of reports or complaints with the ACA (Anti-Corruption Agency, now MACC), the CCID and RoS and the lodging of general police reports," she said.
The decision was made in allowing an appeal by former Selangor Chin Woo Athletic Association president Datuk Dr Low Bin Tick to overturn a High Court and Court of Appeal decision which ordered him to pay RM500,000 in damages for allegedly defaming another ex-president Datuk Chong Tho Chin.
The court ordered Chong to pay RM150,000 to Low.
In the 34-page judgement, Aziah added that the purpose of Low lodging those complaints against Chong to the MACC, CCID and RoS is to notify the agencies of an alleged unlawful conduct so that they could carry out investigations and if they find it appropriate to take necessary action against the alleged wrongdoer.
The court also found that the High Court had misdirected themselves on this issue when they held that Low had sent the impugned letter (complaint) without authority or mandate.
"The defence of absolute privilege applies where the primary interest is the due administration of justice and the overriding public policy that those who have complaints should be free to make it," Aziah said.
In its decision, the court had also affirmed a 2013 Federal Court ruling by former Chief Justice Tun Arifin Zakaria in the case of Lee Yoke Ham against Chin Keat Seng as the authority applies in Low's case.
Arifin had previously held that absolute privilege should be extended to a statement contained in a police report lodged as it is an overriding public interest that a member of the public should be encouraged to make a police report with regard with any crime that comes to his or her notice.
Also presiding were Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Tan Sri Richard Malanjum, Federal Court judges Tan Sri Hasan Lah and Tan Sri Ramly Ali.
In 2007, Chong filed four defamation suits against Low after the latter (Low) lodged a complaint to the MACC, CCID and RoS about the former.
Chong who was Chin Woo president from 1991 to 2001 claimed that Low, president from 2001 to 2005, had filed unfounded complaints and defaming him in letters to the three agencies in 2005.
On June 26, 2012, the Kuala Lumpur High Court ruled in favour of Chong and ordered Low to pay Chong RM500,000 in damages to him.
The Court of Appeal had on Dec 2, 2014, upheld the High Court's decision.