Support Village Voice News With a Donation of Your Choice.
...High Court sticks to ruling that he must pay Ferguson for libel
By Lisa Hamilton
Vice President, Bharrat Jagdeo’s bid to overturn a default judgment by the Court for him to pay Opposition Member of Parliament (MP), Annette Ferguson $20M for libelous statements made back in 2019 was not granted on Wednesday when examined by High Court Judge, Justice Sandra Kurtzious.
However, Justice Kurtzious has decided to re-examine the sum of $20M previously awarded Ferguson — the former Minister within the Ministry of Communities — with a decision to come on July 28, 2021.
On March 11, Justice Kurtzious ordered the Vice President to pay Ferguson for libelous statements he made against her which suggested that she used her office as a Minister of Government, to acquire large portions of lands at Eccles on the East Bank of Demerara (EBD).
Jagdeo had failed to file his defence, and a default judgement was handed down in response to an application by Ferguson. However, the Vice President, in a Notice of Application, filed on April 1, 2020 asked the Court to set aside the order for default judgment, as well as the Statement of Claim.
Jagdeo told the High Court that his Legal Counsel at the time, the current Attorney General, Anil Nandlall, had advised him that the defence was filed. Through his Legal Counsel Devindra Kissoon, he laid down 49 grounds to support his application.
On Wednesday, Justice Kurtzious set out to decide whether she would grant the application made by Jagdeo to set aside the default judgement she granted previously.
It required that she examine the reasons presented by Jagdeo, through his attorney, as to why he failed to file his defence within the 28 day period. She also examined whether the Vice President had a defence with a good prospect to succeed.
In his Affidavit, while admitting that the Defence was not filed though drafted on January 27, 2020, Jagdeo said both he and his then attorney (Nandlall) were engrossed in the 2020 General and Regional Elections, and court cases that stemmed from the Elections. The COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on the operations of the Court was also presented as an excuse.
Providing a synopsis of the Court’s ruling, Ferguson’s lawyer, Lyndon Amsterdam, told this news entity: “She [Justice Kurtzious] examined that and she found that those reasons were not reasonable in the circumstances. She also examined how default judgment was obtained and she found that Annette Ferguson had complied with the rules and had satisfied the requirements.”
Justice Kurtzious also found that Ferguson had proven that she had only one house lot and that she was never charged or investigated for misappropriation of funds while at the Guyana Post Office Corporation (GPOC). This is even as Jagdeo’s allegation against Ferguson came some 11 years after she had parted ways with the GPOC.
Speaking more to Justice Kurtzious’ ruling, Amsterdam said: “She examined the law with regards to the defence which was fair comment, qualified privilege and a matter of public interest and she showed that he was recklessness in uttering these statements without verifying that they were truthful or had any basis in truth and therefore she found that the defences that he relied on did not show that he had a good prospect of succeeding in a trial. In no circumstances, she found that he had not fulfilled the requirement to set aside default judgement and therefore dismissed his application.”
Cost in the sum of $75,000 was awarded. Justice Kurtzious further required the respective attorneys to submit written submissions by July 7, 2021 regarding the issue of quantum of damages for libel. On July 28, 2021, she will rule whether the $20M previously awarded to Ferguson will remain as is or be changed to another figure.