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….Court to hand down decision on Feb. 19
Former Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams has asked Justice Priya Sewnarine-Beharry to recuse herself from a 2017 libel case, which surrounded an allegation that Anil Nandlall, the current Attorney General, was bound to face legal actions for the then missing law books.
Williams made his application in the High Court on Friday before Justice Sewnarine-Beharry on the grounds that the High Court judge, during the course of the case, showed a bias and a pre-determination of the issues raised by Nandlall.
In the substantive case – Mohabir Nandlall vs Basil Williams – the claimant is seeking damages for libel and slander allegedly published by Williams in 2017, who was at the time the then Attorney General. Williams had said that Nandlall would have been charged for the missing law books, unaccounted for during his tenure as Minister of Legal Affairs and Attorney General between 2011 and 2015.
In his defense, Williams denied that he had libeled or slandered Nandlall because, at the time, he was speaking in the capacity of the Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, and as a custodian of State Assets, had a duty to give transparent answers on his stewardship. He pointed out that on April 27, 2017, Nandlall was charged with the offence of larceny with regards to 14 missing law books.
In his Notice of Application, Williams said in 2019, the High Court judged expressed statements that could be deemed bias. He submitted that when his then attorney, Patrice Henry, appeared before Justice Sewnarine-Beharry on December 5, 2019, the judge said should the criminal charges against Nandlall be dismissed, the libel suit will be sustained and the converse that if the Claimant is convicted of the criminal offence then the libel suit will be dismissed.
“The said staying of the trial of the matter until criminal proceedings are over, by Justice Beharry raises the likelihood of bias on her part and a pre-determination of the issues raised by the Claimant Mohabir Anil Nandlall in his Statement of Claim,” Williams said.
He added: “That staying the matter until the criminal proceedings were determined conveys that Justice Beharry attaches greater importance to the outcome of the charge rather than that the charge itself confirmed the Claimant’s contention that the Defendant said he would be charged. The Claimant being charged with larceny of the missing law books established the Defendant’s defence of truth and fair comment on a matter of public interest.”
Notably, on October 16, 2020, the charges against Nandlall was discontinued by trial Magistrate Fabayo Azore at the Georgetown Magistrates’ Courts pursuant to directions by the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP).
Nandlall has been given two weeks to file an Affidavit in Answer that is on or before January 29, 2021, while Williams has until February 12 to file an Affidavit in Reply. The matter was adjourned to February 19, 2021 for decision.