The High Court yesterday rejected a bid by one of the sternest foreign critics of the country's judicial system to represent an opposition leader in a politically charged defamation lawsuit. Mr Justice Lai Kew Chai ruled that Australian Queen's Counsel Stuart Littlemore was not a fit and proper person to represent Chee Soon Juan, Singapore Democratic Party leader, in the case. Mr Chee is facing a defamation lawsuit brought by Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew and Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong for remarks he made during November's general election. In return, Mr Chee is counter-suing Mr Goh and Mr Lee for verbal attacks they made against him during the brief campaign. Yesterday's decision - which may go to appeal - is a setback for Mr Chee, who said he could face damages of up to S$750,000 (HK$3.2 million) if he lost the case brought by Mr Goh and Mr Lee. 'Stuart Littlemore, as I understand it, is a very good QC. It's a shame that the court has decided that he cannot represent me,' Mr Chee said after the ruling. Mr Littlemore raised the hackles of the Singapore authorities in 1997 after observing the hearing of an earlier defamation lawsuit brought by Mr Goh against veteran opposition campaigner Joshua Jeyaretnam. On behalf of the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists, Mr Littlemore said in a report that the 'Singapore leadership has a long-standing record of using the High Court as a mechanism for silencing its opponents by suing them for statements that, in any comparable jurisdiction, would be seen as part of the robust political debate inseparable from democratic freedoms'. A war of words followed between the Singapore authorities and Mr Littlemore, who specialises in defamation law. The Ministry of Law dubbed the commission's report 'false, misleading and hypocritical'. Yesterday, lawyers from the Attorney-General's chambers and the Law Society argued that Mr Littlemore should not be allowed to represent Mr Chee because of his earlier criticisms. For the Attorney-General, Senior State Counsel Jeffrey Chan Wah Teck described Mr Littlemore's commission report and comments both as 'slanted' and 'derogatory'. Mr Chan also cast doubt on Mr Littlemore's legal expertise. Under Singapore's Legal Profession Act, a decision on whether to permit QCs to represent local plaintiffs and defendants rests with the courts. In his verbal ruling, Mr Justice Lai said: 'It is very clear that the suitability of Stuart Littlemore is the central issue in this case . . . The Singapore judiciary, like any other self-respecting judiciary, cannot be expected to honour those who disparage us.' Speaking from Sydney, Mr Littlemore said he was not surprised by the rejection, adding Mr Chee could not get a competent local lawyer for fear of government action if they acted for an opposition leader. Leaders of the ruling People's Action Party have successfully sued their opponents for defamation many times, winning substantial damages. They have said that legal action is the best way to uphold their reputations. The party has governed Singapore since independence in 1965. In November's election it won 82 of 84 elected seats.