Lee Kuan Yew estate's appeal: Court of Appeal reserves judgement on interview transcripts

Lee Hsien Yang (left) leaving the Supreme Court building on 10 April 2017. Lee and his sister, Lee Wei Ling, are executors of the estate of their late father Lee Kuan Yew. (Photo: Safhras Khan/Yahoo Singapore)

Singapore’s Court of Appeal on Monday (10 April) reserved judgement into the appeal by the estate of Lee Kuan Yew against a ruling on the interviews that the former Prime Minister had given in the 1980s.

The estate, overseen by Lee’s younger children, Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling, had appealed against the High Court’s ruling in September last year that while the estate has the copyright of the interview transcripts, it does not have the rights to the physical custody of the transcripts or use them freely.

The transcripts contain accounts of affairs of state as observed and experienced by Lee Kuan Yew, who was prime minister when he gave the interviews as part of a government oral history project in the 1980s.

Lee Kuan Yew had signed an agreement with then Cabinet Secretary Wong Chooi Sen and the Director of Archives and Oral History Department Lily Tan in 1983, specifying terms for the use and administration of the transcripts.

Under the agreement, the transcripts would be kept in the Cabinet Secretary’s custody until 2000, or five years after his death, whichever is later. Lee Kuan Yew passed away on 23 March 2015, which means the agreement would be in effect until 2020.

The transcripts were found at Lee Kuan Yew’s home at Oxley Road. A family member handed them to the Cabinet Secretary sometime between the date of Lee’s death and May 2015, without getting the estate’s consent.

Judge of Appeal Tay Yong Kwang had ruled the contents of the interviews were politically sensitive and that the former PM had wanted to safeguard the confidentiality of the transcripts and therefore signed an agreement to that effect.

Appearing before a three-judge panel, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, Judges of Appeal Chao Hick Tin and Andrew Phang, lawyers for the estate said that their clients, as executors of the estate, should be allowed to make copies of the transcripts as they contain information about the former PM and his family. Some of the information, according to the lawyers, had also been made public and published by the media previously.

However, the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC), which is representing the government in the case, reiterated in the Court of Appeal that only limited rights to the transcripts had passed on to the estate after Lee Kuan Yew’s death.