Judge overturns decision and finds woman defamed doctor in making sexual allegations, but says doctor has 'no moral victory'

Judge overturns decision and finds woman defamed doctor in making sexual allegations, but says doctor has 'no moral victory'

Julian Ong Serene Tiong
(Photos: Serene Tiong/Facebook, Julian Ong Endoscopy & Surgery)

SINGAPORE: A doctor who sued a woman for claiming he and another doctor colluded to take sexual advantage of patients won a legal victory on Friday (Oct 2) but had no moral victory, a judge said.

Justice See Kee Oon overturned a lower court decision, and found that the woman had defamed Dr Julian Ong Kian Peng in saying that he colluded with another doctor, Dr Chan Herng Nieng, to take advantage of "other vulnerable woman patients".

Dr Ong runs a private practice at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, while Dr Chan is a former senior consultant of psychiatry at Singapore General Hospital.

Ms Serene Tiong, a business development manager at Thomson Medical Centre, had alleged that the two doctors exchanged with each other potential patients and colleagues who could be easily taken advantage of.

The judge on Friday allowed Dr Ong's appeal against a lower court's decision to exonerate Ms Tiong of defamation, and Dr Ong will now have a claim for libel and an injunction against Ms Tiong. 

Ms Tiong was also ordered to pay Dr Ong costs of S$40,000 for court proceedings. Separate damages for defamation will be assessed at a later date in the lower court.

Justice See said Ms Tiong failed to prove her defence of justification, as she did not prove that the two doctors colluded to take sexual advantage of more than one "vulnerable woman patient". 

For a defence of justification to stand in defamation, the person making the allegedly defamatory remarks must prove that what they said was true.

Even though the judge found that a woman named only as K was indeed a target and a vulnerable patient, no other such patients were named. The judge also rejected Ms Tiong's claim to be one of the vulnerable patients, as there was no proof of when she became Dr Chan's patient, and she had been having an affair with him years before taking any medicine from him.

Even if Ms Tiong was Dr Chan's patient all along, she had never complained at any time of being vulnerable or taken advantage of, until she found Dr Chan's "surreptitious" messages in April 2018 and realised she was not Dr Chan's exclusive lover.

There was no evidence that more than one woman, who was a vulnerable patient of either of the doctors, was targeted, said the judge.

"It is not open to the court to speculate that because one patient was targeted, there must be others in the past or that there will be others in the future."

NO MORAL VICTORY

However, despite granting Dr Ong his claim for defamation, Justice See stressed that he cannot say the doctors are fully vindicated.

"What they did with their sexual partners outside of their roles is entirely their choice," he said.

"But they do not have any reason to hold their heads high. For there is no moral victory that they ... can hold claim to."

He said that while he recognised that Dr Ong was forced to claim litigation to protect his reputation, he had to have his private sex life in full view of the courtroom.

Lewd messages exchanged between Dr Ong and Dr Chan, in which they discussed sexual conquests with women, using terms such as "sluts" to label them, were shown in court and reported about.

WhatsApp messages between the two doctors include texts where Dr Ong told Dr Chan to "feel free to play your game" and made a reference to anal sex with the patient. He also shared a patient's contact with Dr Chan and egged him on to meet her.

"No doubt, the messages (were) in exchange between friends ... but it is often only in private messages, when (one's) guard is down, that true colours reveal themselves," said the judge.

To protect his reputation, Dr Ong had "been forced to come clean" on repeatedly cheating on his spouse, he added, while Dr Chan admitted making inappropriate touches in the past.

The two doctors' "smug boasts" of their trysts with women speak to their true character, said Justice See.

"They may be competent doctors and their sex lives are of course private matters, but their blatant treatment of women as sex objects sullies whatever professional reputations they have built up for themselves."

The Singapore Medical Council said in June that a committee it appointed found that conditions had to be imposed on both doctors' medical practitioner licences, for public safety and in the public's interest.

For 18 months from Jun 18 or until disciplinary proceedings against them conclude, Dr Ong cannot contact female patients other than for medical purposes. If he has to, a clinic employee has to do so on his behalf unless there are certain conditions.

He is also not allowed to send personal data of his patients to others unless required by medical practice or by law.

Dr Chan was given the same conditions, with an additional condition: He must record his contact with any female patients in a separate log if he has to contact them for psychiatric care, or if he is taking a call from them or their family members relating to psychiatric care or treatment.

Ong was also suspended from practising at Gleneagles, Mount Elizabeth, Mount Elizabeth Novena and Parkway East Hospitals, said a filing on the Singapore Exchange in April.

However, he was still allowed to practise at heartland centres by medical service group HC Surgical Specialists.

Source: CNA/ll

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