Court dismisses appeal of Indian Chamber of Commerce
BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN
THE Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal by the Indian Chamber of Commerce of Brunei Darussalam to strike out a libel action filed against them by businessmen Ramesh Jiwatram Bhawnani and Abdul Hamid Abas.
The two businessmen have alleged that they were libelled in a letter dated April 5, 2010 sent by the Indian Chamber of Commerce to the Indian High Commissioner in Brunei Darussalam. This was followed by a letter dated November 29, 2010 sent to a subsequent Indian High Commissioner.
“The appeal is dismissed,” the Court of Appeal said. “There will be an order that the respondents’ costs of this appeal be taxed if not agreed and paid by the appellants.”
One of the arguments raised by the appellants was that the civil suit libel action “could not be maintained as the court was not competent to entertain a suit relating to communications relating to matters of State”. This was based on the provision of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (the Convention).
The Court of Appeals discussed the question of “whether a letter written by a private person to a diplomatic mission may be adduced in evidence” and considered the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961.
In the decision, the court said the letters referred to in the libel suit are admissible.
“The Convention does not assist the appellants who have failed at this stage to show that either copy delivered anonymously to the respondents was taken from the original in the archive,” the Court of Appeals said.
“They have also failed to show that the respondents were complicit in the act of making either copy. On the evidence as it stands at present we find that the letters are admissible.”
The chambers’ motion to strike out the civil suit libel action was earlier dismissed by the registrar and then by the Chief Justice before the matter was brought up to the three-panel judges at the Court of Appeal.
Representing the chamber was Siva Sankaran from Sankaran Halim & Associates.
The court was of the view that Sankaran’s argument depended on an assumption that the respondents seek to put in evidence the letters sent to the High Commissioner and that they must have been obtained by improper means from the archive of the Indian High Commission.
“There is nothing to support that assumption. In fact, the respondents do not seek to put in evidence any document taken from the archives of the Indian High Commission,” said the court.
“There is no evidence as to when or where the copies were made. The appellants suggest that they were made in the High Commission but this appears to be pure speculation.”
“In those circumstances, it is difficult to see how the question of inviolability of the High Commission’s official correspondence can arise. There is nothing to suggest that the Indian High Commission wishes to object to the content of the letters being put in evidence,” said the court.
The Brunei Times