• Fri
  • Dec 19, 2014
  • Updated: 3:26am
NewsHong Kong

Hong Kong headmaster blames his bad English for defamation lawsuit

Shiu Hon-po claims Tam deliberately defamed him by endorsing groundless complaint filed by parent

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 April, 2013, 8:56am

A headmaster being sued for defamation told a court yesterday that his colleague had mistaken his bad English for slander.

The District Court appearance of George Tam Siu-ping - who is due to retire as principal of the 93-year-old Wah Yan College after about 17 years - proved a school scandal significant enough to draw former pupils to the public gallery.

Shiu Hon-po, a now-retired teacher at the elite Roman Catholic secondary school on Hong Kong Island - which teaches in English - claims that Tam deliberately defamed him by endorsing a groundless complaint filed by a parent.

Tam denies the allegation but admits he mistakenly described the complaint as "valid" when he only intended to say it was "real". Shiu is suing for damages of HK$200,000 and an apology.

"The litigation is due to a misunderstanding," his lawyers said.

Tam's lawyers presented transcripts of their client's conversations which pinpointed examples of his misuse of English. They showed him in one speech using the word "invest" for "investigate", and "divert" for "disclose".

After listening to the examples, District Court Judge Wong Hing-chun said that it was common for a person who did not speak English well to make some mistakes in an unscripted speech.

The case is now pending her judgment.

The court had previously heard that Tam failed the equivalent A-level English language exam in 1970. He passed the subject the following year.

He then went on to study at Northcote College of Education and has a master's degree from the University of Hong Kong.

The court heard earlier that Tam has breathing difficulties and serious shortsightedness.

His lawyers say those conditions could have hampered the principal during school meetings and when handling complaints.


Related topics

For unlimited access to:

SCMP.com SCMP Tablet Edition SCMP Mobile Edition 10-year news archive



This article is now closed to comments

hard times !
Being the principal of a famous and prestigious secondary school ----Wah Yan College (where the retired chief executive,Tsang Yam-kuen graduated ), this Tam dared say that both his English and Chinese were/are lousy ! Shame on him as he has disgraced his school and his colleagues plus the board of directors who promoted him to the post of principal----maybe his promotion was a result of good relationship( kuan zi). Shame on this old guy in town.
It's doubtful Judge Wong Hing-chun is the best choice for properly disposing of a case involving any subtlety in the English language. Here's a taste of the best she can muster: "The work on reeducating the offenders is placed on the probation officers for those who are put on probation or the supervising officers for those who have served a custodial term in prison." Problems with this: (1) "The work of reeducating", not "on"; (2) work is not "placed on" anyone, perhaps she meant "the burden of the work ..." or "is placed with" and (3) surely the supervisors get to do their bit with "those who serve custodial terms" not after the inmates are long gone. This gem is from her scholarly work published in "Advancing the Human Rights of Women". In her reasons for judgment in a sexual harassment case, she described the defendant's acts as "indicating his perverted lewdness". One imagines that if one's lewdness gets perverted it must end up somewhere in the region of prudishness. What she would have said if her English were up to scratch is "perversion and lewdness". So good luck, Headmaster Tam. Any outcome is on the cards.
Such is the sad state of education in HK, neither good in English nor Chinese.
What a joke.........blaming his own ignorance on poor English when the school teaches in English........just one of many problems HK'rs face because of their arrrogance.
What has "arrrogance" (there's a rrrripping word for you!) got to do with this chap's claim to ignorance?


SCMP.com Account