NUBE immune from libel in trade disputes, rules Federal Court

THE Federal Court unanimously upheld a Court of Appeal decision which held that trade unions and their officers were immune from the liability arising from tort or libel.

The case arose from five defamation suits that were brought by Maybank against the National Union of Bank Employees (NUBE) and its officers due to the publication of a flyer and two articles on the union website in 2011.

They were filed separately against NUBE officers Mohd Faisal Husin, Nur Rasidah Jamaludin, Sharifuddin Hassan and T. Sethupathy at the High Courts in Johor Bahru, Kuala Lumpur and Shah Alam for distributing the flyers.

The bank had also filed another suit against NUBE and its general secretary J. Solomon in Kuala Lumpur for publishing the articles.

The losing parties had appealed to the Court of Appeal and all appeals were heard together.

Last August, the Court of Appeal held that there was no ambiguity in the construction of Section 22(1) of the Trade Unions Act 1959, wherein a suit against a trade union and its officers in respect of any tortious act, namely libel, alleged to have been committed on behalf of the trade union, shall not be entertained by any court.

The appeals resulted in the ruling that NUBE and its officers were conferred with absolute immunity from the tort of libel.

The Court of Appeal had also held that the flyer and the articles in the NUBE website were published pursuant to a “trade dispute” between NUBE and Maybank at the material time.

Maybank then filed 5 separate applications for leave to appeal to the Federal Court against all the decisions of the Court of Appeal.

The Federal Court, comprising Chief Justice Md Raus Sharif, President of the Court of Appeal Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin and Jeffery Tan, unanimously dismissed all of Maybank’s applications for leave to appeal with costs of RM20,000.

The apex court effectively held that Section 22 of the Trade Unions Act, 1959 was clear and unambiguous and required no further interpretations.

NUBE and its officers were represented by Ambiga Sreenevasan and Alex De Silva while Cecil Abraham, Thavalingam Thavarajah, S. Rutheran and Sunil Abraham acted for Maybank. – July 3, 2017.

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