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Contempt of court: Jail for woman who refused to remove posts that falsely alleged insurance firm cheated her

SINGAPORE — A district court judge has ordered a woman to serve four weeks of jail time, after she repeatedly refused to comply with two court orders to take down offensive social media posts that she had made against Tokio Marine Life Insurance Singapore.

Contempt of court: Jail for woman who refused to remove posts that falsely alleged insurance firm cheated her

Tay Tiang Choo repeatedly failed to comply with court orders to take down her social media posts against Tokio Marine Life Insurance Singapore.

  • Tay Tiang Choo repeatedly did not comply with court orders to take down her social media posts against Tokio Marine Life Insurance Singapore
  • The former insurance agent and auditor grew upset over two life insurance plans that she had with the firm
  • She also sent complaint letters and email messages to multiple high-profile parties, including the Monetary Authority of Singapore
  • The court ordered her to take down the posts and issue a correction notice
  • She did not issue the notice and was found in contempt of court

SINGAPORE — A district court judge has ordered a woman to serve four weeks of jail time, after she repeatedly refused to comply with two court orders to take down offensive social media posts that she had made against Tokio Marine Life Insurance Singapore.

Tay Tiang Choo, who was herself a former insurance agent, reposted her false statements on her Facebook account after the first order.

District Judge Jasbendar Kaur noted in her grounds of decision dated Nov 17 that when Tay eventually removed the posts, she then stated that she would “rather die” than issue a correction notice.

The judge found her guilty of contempt of court and ruled that imprisonment was warranted owing to the serious nature of the contempt.

Tay, whose age was not stated, accused Tokio Marine of committing “scam and fraud” in 2018. She thought the company had discontinued her retirement policy when an internal warning to her agent was mistakenly triggered.

She then sent a letter to the firm’s headquarters in Japan demanding compensation and forwarded it to multiple parties, including the Monetary Authority of Singapore and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Soon after, she agreed to a settlement with Tokio Marine when it agreed to apologise for its service lapse and offered S$890 of shopping vouchers.

However, in June 2019, Tay learnt that a second life policy that she bought with Tokio Marine had lapsed. She claimed that her bank account had enough money in March and April that year when attempts were made to deduct the policy premiums, and that she was not notified of the lapse.

Tokio Marine arranged a meeting to explain the reason and offered to reinstate her policy upon payment of the unpaid premiums.

From late 2019 to August last year, Tay sent complaint letters and email messages to several high-profile parties again, demanded S$1 million in compensation from Tokio Marine, and threatened to go to the press and publicise the matter on social media.

She then uploaded various posts and a video on her Facebook and TikTok accounts, alleging that the firm had cheated and defrauded her. The TikTok video showed her protesting in front of Tokio Marine’s office with a board listing the allegations.

‘EVEN IF YOU KILL ME… ’

In October last year, Tokio Marine filed a court summons to stop Tay from publishing the allegations until a court decided if they were false.

The company also sought an order for her to post a notification on her social media accounts that she had made false statements and to forward them to the parties she contacted.

Tay’s allegations included Tokio Marine being “unprofessional and disrespectful” to her, actively lying to and misleading its customers about its policies, and “bleeding out” Tay’s policy until she could no longer pay premiums.

The court granted an interim order the next month, but she did not comply. Instead, she reposted the allegations on her Facebook page three times and encouraged others to like and share the posts.

District Judge Kaur later ruled that Tokio Marine proved on a balance of probabilities that her statements were false, and issued a stop-publication order and correction order under the Protection from Harassment Act.

Under the orders, Tay had to immediately remove her posts, stop publishing such allegations and publish a correction notice on her social media accounts by March 3 this year.

It was only after these orders were served on her in late February that she considered complying with them, District Judge Kaur noted in her judgement.

Tay took the Facebook posts down in March.

Tokio Marine was then granted leave to begin committal proceedings — that is, to penalise her for non-compliance with a court order.

By June, Tay had completely removed the posts from her accounts but refused to publish the correction notice, telling District Judge Kaur: “Like what I have said many times, Ma’am, even if you kill me, I will not do this correction order or correction notice.”

The judge then found her guilty of contempt of court and sentenced her. In response, Tay said that she would appeal against the “whole decision”.

PERVERTED THE COURSE OF JUSTICE

In her judgement, District Judge Kaur listed several reasons for imposing jail time, including Tay’s “persistent” non-compliance as well as her desire to continue embarrassing and pressuring Tokio Marine into giving her compensation by “generating a viral outrage”.

“She was also not willing to accept anything other than her own ‘truth’ and she admitted as much during the committal proceedings when she stated that she was only willing to comply with the court order if it suited her,” the judge added.

Tay further portrayed herself as an “old and helpless litigant with poor eyesight” who could not fully understand the proceedings and her legal obligations.

Rubbishing this, District Judge Kaur said that it was not difficult to understand the three-page court order, and it would not be a “challenging exercise” to read it, given her past jobs as a public auditor and insurance agent from 1985 to 2003.

As for not publishing and issuing the correction notice, Tay claimed that she could not do so because it would mean, in her own words, “I lied in court, then the court can charge me”.

This clearly showed her disrespect for the judicial process, the judge said.

In terms of the impact, Tay had more than 80,000 followers at the time, but only 57 shared her posts. However, the fact remained that they could potentially damage Tokio Marine’s reputation if they went uncorrected, District Judge Kaur added.

She noted that there were also public policy considerations in play, given that Tay had tried to instigate the Singapore and Japan authorities to probe Tokio Marine, and information can be easily disseminated online.

“(By) disobeying the court orders, (Tay) perverted the course of justice and she continues to challenge the court’s authority and undermine the administration of justice for inexcusable reasons… This wilful interference with the course of justice clearly warranted a firm sentence to achieve the punitive effect.”

On July 30, the parties reconvened to consider suspending Tay’s sentence to give her one last chance to issue the correction notice.

When Tay stated that she could not be compelled to do so and that she would “rather die than comply”, District Judge Kaur declined to suspend the sentence.

As of the date of the judgement, Tay had not served her jail sentence because of Covid-19 public health concerns.

Related topics

court contempt of court Tokio Marine Life Insurance Singapore Tay Tiang Choo insurance social media

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