The Federal Court ruled today that a person who lodges a police report could be held accountable for defamation if he or she repeats the contents of the report to the public.
Justice Azahar Mohamed said subsequent publication of the contents of a police report by its maker to the public was not protected by the defence of absolute privilege save where the contents of the report were made in or in connection with judicial proceedings.
In his 15-page judgment, he said there was no public policy consideration to recognise that once the police report was absolutely privileged, it remained so during whatever occasion when it was subsequently published.
"The right of the maker of the police report to speak and write freely to the public at large cannot override an individual's interest in protecting his reputation," said Justice Azahar, who delivered the judgment of a five-person bench in a defamation lawsuit brought against actress Zahida Mohamed Rafik.
He said the absolute-privilege defence must at some point give way to protection against reputational damage.
Justice Azahar said it would result in persons irresponsibly slandering others with impunity if the defence of absolute privilege was extended to cover the subsequent publication of the contents of the police report to the world at large.
He said that in the present case, Zahida did not offer justification or explanation why it was necessary or reasonable for her to repeat the contents of the police report at a press conference.
However, he said, although the court answered the legal question pertaining to absolute privilege in favour of Zahida's former driver, Noor Azman Azemi, it would not affect the result of his appeal.
In dismissing Noor Azman's appeal with no order as to costs, Justice Azahar said no serious miscarriage of justice had occurred.
Noor Azman had appealed against the Court of Appeal decision which set aside the RM150,000 damages awarded to him by the High Court in his defamation suit against Zahida.
Noor Azman, a driver for a private company, would also have to return RM200,000 to Zahida as the Federal Court had upheld a Court of Appeal decision on her counter-claim against him (Noor Azman).
Noor Azman sued Zahida in 2013 over her statement which was published in an article in a local daily on March 3, 2012, over the loss of RM200,000.
After lodging a police report against Noor Azman, Zahida was approached by reporters who enquired the reason she went to the police station. She told the reporters that she had lodged a police report against Noor Azman and repeated the contents of the report to the reporters.
The ‘Anak Mami The Movie’ actress then filed a counter-claim against Noor Azman for the return of the RM200,000.
In 2015, Zahida was ordered to pay RM150,000 in damages to Noor Azman after the High Court allowed his claim for defamation against her. The High Court, however, dismissed Zahida's counter-claim.
She later won her appeal in 2017 when the Court of Appeal set aside the RM150,000 and also allowed her counter-claim to compel Noor Azman to return the RM200,000 to her, prompting him (Noor Azman) to bring the matter to the Federal Court.
A team of lawyers led by Gopal Sri Ram represented Noor Azman while Zahida was represented by lawyer Muhammad Shafee Abdullah.
Outside the court, Muhammad Shafee told reporters following the Federal Court decision that his client won her counter-claim against Noor Azman and he would have to return the RM200,000 with interest of four per cent from 2013 and RM50,000 in costs which was awarded to her by the Court of Appeal.