Federal Court Circumscribes Absolute Privilege for Police Reports
14 February 2019
The Federal Court in a landmark decision handed down on 30 January 2019 set limits to the defence of absolute privilege accorded to a police report.
The apex Court in Noor Azman bin Azemi v Zahida binti Mohamed Rafik held that the subsequent publication of the contents of a police report made by the maker of the report was not protected by the defence of absolute privilege except where the contents of the report were made in or in connection with judicial proceedings.
In making this ruling, the apex Court has clarified the scope of its earlier decision in Lee Yoke Lam v Chin Keng Seng  1 MLJ 145 where it held that statements in a police report are protected by the defence of absolute privilege and no action lies in defamation against the maker of the report on the statements on grounds of public policy.
Justice Azahar bin Mohamed who delivered the unanimous decision of the five-judge panel distinguished Lee Yoke Lam, which unlike the present case, did not deal with the subsequent republication of the defamatory statements by the make to the public at large. According to his Lordship, Lee Yoke Lam was basically a case dealing with the absolute privilege accorded to a police report and the occasion of making the police report to the police.
The Federal Court did not accept the defendant’s contention that the republication of the contents of a police report by its maker to the public is protected by ancillary privilege, extended from the absolute privilege of the police report.
According to the Court in Noor Azman, there is no valid reason of public policy why the maker of a police report should be free from accountability by way of defamation action to publish the defamatory words contained in the police report to the world at large. According to the Court, “the right of the maker to of the police report to speak and write freely to the public cannot override an individual’s interest in protecting his reputation”.
The decision of the Federal Court in Noor Azman is welcomed as it precludes a person from defaming another by republishing the statements made by him in a police report.
The limit set by the Federal Court to the defence of absolute privilege in Noor Azman is likely to apply to Datuk Dr Low Bin Tick v Datuk Chong Tho Chin & Other Appeals  8 CLJ 369, where the Federal Court held that statements contained in reports or complaints made to other law enforcement agencies such as the Registrar of Societies and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission are protected by absolute privilege.