Support Village Voice News With a Donation of Your Choice.
High Court Judge Jo-Ann Barlow last week ruled in favour of Charandas Persaud in a defamation case brought by him against Khemraj Ramjattan who was ordered to pay Persaud $7 million. It was the Judge’s decision Ramjattan defamed Persaud in the media, and she also ordered him to “refrain from making statements that suggest that Persaud was in any way compensated financially for his vote in the No-Confidence Motion.”
On December 21, 2018, Persaud, who was the Member of Parliament in the A Partnership For National Unity and Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) coalition government, supported the Opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic No-Confidence Motion against the 3-year-old Coalition Government, delivering a 33-vote majority in the 65-seat National Assembly.
Since the vote there have been much talks about the role and motive of Persaud. Ramjattan, then Minister of Public Security and Chairman of the AFC, was among those who publicly shared their views.
Village Voice reached out to him for comment on the ruling. In respectfully rejecting the Judge’s ruling, the present Leader of the AFC said he will appeal the decision and has instructed his lawyer, Roysdale Forde S.C, to file an Appeal and a stay of execution of the Judgement. Christopher Ram, Persaud’s lawyer, was also informed, said Ramjattan.
Cognisant the matter is not finally determined, an understanding of Ramjattan’s perspective that political public dissent and/or expression could be seen as libelous in this era and particularly given what occurs in the National Assembly was sought. The AFC leader expressed reservation the context within which his remarks about Persaud were made could be deemed libelous.
“The Learned Judge obviously did not believe me when I said I meant that the Plaintiff was disloyal and dishonest to vote the way he did on that fateful night of 21 December 2018. I respect the Learned Judge ‘s ruling…. but beg to differ”
A legal analyst expressed the viewpoint that appealing the case would be good for Guyana’s jurisprudence, especially our fledgling democracy. “The right to freedom of expression is the foundation of democracy and if one is not at liberty to have an opinion on someone then our democracy needs to be questioned and the court is the place for. We need to also learn the lesson from the U.S Sullivan case.”
In the New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964) case the United States Supreme Court, (as per the Court’s webpage) held “A State cannot, under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, award damages to a public official for defamatory falsehood relating to his official conduct unless he proves ‘actual malice’– that the statement was made with knowledge of its falsity or with reckless disregard of whether it was true or false.”
L. B. Sullivan, an elected city commissioner in Montgomery, Alabama, was the subject of a full-page civil rights fundraising editorial advertisement in 1960 entitled “Heed Their Rising Voices” in the New York Times. It was alleged the advertisement made an incorrect attribution to him. Sullivan took the papers to the Alabama court and won. The papers appealed to the United States Supreme Court, the court of last resort, which ruled in its favour as referenced above.
The case is since considered a landmark in media coverage and political speech, providing new protections against publishers who, in their criticism of government, are sued by government officials for libel.
The Constitution of Guyana protects the right to freedom expression which is applicable to all living within the jurisdiction. The right to expression also has the concomitant right to share opinion, and in the Ramjattan/Persaud case the court will ultimately decide. Ramjattan said he is prepared to follow the law to the ‘T’ and its finality in pursuing justice, and in honouring any obligations that the court deems him liable for.