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The High Court has ordered Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo to pay Opposition Member of Parliament, Annette Ferguson $20M for libelous statements he made against her back in 2019, which suggested that she used her office as a Minister of Government, at the time, to acquire large portions of lands at Eccles on the East Bank of Demerara.
The judgement was handed down by Justice Sandra Kurtzious in the High Court on March 11, 2021. Ferguson, the former Minister within the Ministry of Communities, had initiated the libel proceedings against Jagdeo, who was the then Opposition Leader, on January 9, 2020.
Confirming the judgement, Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall, in a statement, said High Court Marshals, on Tuesday, served the Vice President an Order of Court, which stated that “Default Judgement” was granted against him in the sum of $20M along with costs in the sum of $75,000 in the libel case filed by Ferguson.
According to the Attorney General, the judgement was granted without the knowledge of the Vice President and his Attorneys-at-Law.
Nandlall, who had represented Jagdeo in the case, said it included applications for injunctions. The Attorney General said he had appeared at the hearings for the injunctions, filed the required affidavits, and made legal submissions.
“On the 25th day of February, 2020, a Judge of the High Court dismissed the Applications filed for Injunctions after considering the Affidavits and hearing the legal submissions made. Mr. Jagdeo pleaded the defence of justification and fair comment in his Affidavits. At or about the 24th of February 2020, a Defence on behalf of Mr. Jagdeo became due under the Rules of Court. It would be observed that this was a mere week before March 2nd 2020 General and Regional Elections,” the Attorney General said.
He added: “Mr. Jagdeo is General Secretary of the People’s Progressive Party and Leader of the List of the PPP/C Candidates and Mr. Nandlall, an Executive Member of the PPP, Legal Advisor to the PPP, a Candidate on the List as well as the party’s Assistant Chief Elections Scrutineer, had multiple responsibilities in relation to and in connection with the impending elections, including meeting with the Guyana Elections Commission, meeting with International Observer Teams, planning and preparing for Election Day as well as campaigning across the country. As a consequence, the Defence though prepared was never filed in the Court.”
He said the restrictions imposed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic which hit Guyana in March 2020 had also contributed to their failure to file the defence. “It is interesting to note, that the default judgement was obtained over one year after the Defence became due and Mr. Jagdeo, nor his Lawyers were in any manner notified, whatsoever, so that their default could have been remedied,” Nandlall said.
He said while it appears as though damages were assessed, an examination of the Court’s record does not indicate that there was any hearing where these damages were assessed. Nandlall said even without filing of a Defence, Jagdeo and his legal team ought to have been notified of such a hearing to be able to interrogate the evidence presented to the Court but that was not done.
“The Rules of Court provide for an application to be made to set aside default judgements and currently, an application to this effect is being made. Mr. Jagdeo has every intention of defending these proceedings,” the Attorney General assured.