Freddie vs Jagdeo court battle begins
– Court told Ambassadors, heads of key state agencies all Indians
– Luncheon claims Govt. impartial
By Latoya Giles
The highly published and much anticipated court battle – President Bharrat Jagdeo vs. Kaieteur News Columnist Frederick Kissoon – got underway yesterday with Head of the Presidential Secretariat Dr Roger Luncheon being the first person called to give evidence in chief.
The Head of State is suing Kissoon and National Media and Publishing Company, publishers of Kaieteur News, and Editor-in-Chief Adam Harris for over $10M, claiming libel in one of Kissoon’s daily columns last year.
The matter is being heard before Justice Brassington Reynolds. Yesterday Kissoon’s legal team comprising prominent lawyers Nigel Hughes, Christopher Ram and Khemraj Ramjattan were present.
Meanwhile the state was represented by attorneys at law Anil Nandlall, Jaya Manickchand, Bibi Shaddick, Sase Gunraj.
As the proceedings started yesterday Dr Luncheon was examined by attorney at law Anil Nandlall.
Despite carrying a walking stick, the witness had to be helped into the area of the witness box and was allowed to be cross-examined outside of the box while sitting on a chair provided by the court.
As reporters struggled to listen to the proceedings, due to the noise made by the traffic outside and the construction that is being done at High Court, the matter commenced with Dr Luncheon being asked about his opinion of the article. He answered that the article intended to confuse the readers about the position of His Excellency President Bharrat Jagdeo held, with regards to Afro-Guyanese.
It was also stated that the article attempted to place the President as a racist, which was put forward by Nandlall.
As regards the article, which was titled as “King Kong sent his goons to disrupt the conference”, Dr Luncheon in responding to questions by Nandlall said that in his opinion “King Kong” referred to the president.
Luncheon was asked by the lawyer about how many persons within the Government are non-Indians and still held positions in it.
Nandlall then asked Dr. Luncheon to call out the persons within the government who are non-Indians. This was done. The article in question was then tendered into evidence by Nandlall.
Defence Counsel Nigel Hughes then began cross-examining the witness.
The first question the witness was asked was about the ethnicity of persons who headed a majority of the Government agencies and state institutions, and held all the ambassadorial positions.
Hughes called out a list of over 41 persons who are all of Indian ethnicity who hold these positions, to which Luncheon admitted during his evidence in chief. These persons included Commissioner of the Guyana Revenue Authority Khurshid Sattaur; Chief Executive Officer of the GPHC; Michael Khan; Heads of GuySuCo, GPL, GWI, Guyoil, the Civil Service, NCN, GINA, CANU, the New GMC, EPA, NARI; Forestry Commission, Civil Aviation, Cheddi Jagan International Airport, Privatization Committee, the Judiciary, the Magistracy, the Director of Public Prosecutions, High Court Registrar, Auditor-General, GOINVEST, All Service Commissions …the list went on.
Attorney at law Anil Nandlall then objected to the line of questioning that the defence was taking.
He said that the justification had not been properly or legally pleaded which is required by the rules of plead, for it to be available as defence of the libel.
Nandlall told the court that Hughes could not continue that line of questioning because it was not included in the plea of justification. The judge then informed Nandlall that he saw nothing wrong with the line of questioning and the stage hasn’t been reached to decide on justification, but Nandlall asked the court to allow time to introduce authorities to buttress his point.
Defence attorney Hughes then addressed the court and explained that what the defence was doing was basic to law – questioning a witness based on the testimony that came out of the witness’ mouth. He told the judge this was far from the argument of justification, and was in fact a fundamental right in a court of law. He said that the defence put questions to Luncheon based on what Luncheon told the court and that was the basic right of any defence, the question of the plea of justification did not arise
The judge then gave Nandlall the afternoon session to submit his authorities.
On resumption, Nandlall contended that in a plea of justification, there must be a set pattern to follow and the defence did not do so.
In reply, Hughes contended that Nandlall was dealing with frivolities and not substance. He cited the position of the Caribbean Court of Justice that says that it is not presentation that matters but substance. He then went through paragraph by paragraph to show that his line of questioning was in fact based on his original plea of justification.
Attorney Khemraj Ramattan dismissed Nandlall’s argument by saying that Nandlall wanted to have the current evidence presented in the original plea of justification. Citing authorities, he said justification can be broad and it would not be strategic for a defence to put in the plea of justification the evidence they have.
Using the defence plea of justification, he said that it is sufficient, but what Nandlall wants are all the research of Kissoon and all the documents the defence have, to have been included in the plea of justification. He explained that in such a case, a plea of justification will be about one hundred pages.
The judge will rule next Wednesday if Hughes will be allowed to cross-examine Luncheon on the number of East Indians in the hierarchy of the state structures.
President Jagdeo has claimed that the article suggests that he is a racist and that “by extension, the State and Government of Guyana, practise racism as an ideology, dogma, philosophy and policy.”
The president had told the media that he was looking forward to the “wonderful day” in court when Kissoon will have to prove that he, Jagdeo, is a racist and that his government’s policy has its origin in racism.
Yesterday as the matter was adjourned several government ministers – Robert Persaud, Priya Manickchand, Irfaan Ali and Pauline Sukhai – were present to lend support.