The real moment in the Jagdeo libel case starts this morning
Today, at 9 AM in Justice Brassington Reynold’s court, Bharrat Jagdeo’s libel case against me and this newspaper resumes. But today will be the moment in this case. The defence takes the stand.
To be featured is my 80-page research which I have documented the troubled area of discrimination in this country, a sociological anomaly that has haunted and hunted down this country since the Burnham-Jagan spilt in the fifties. The period I have dealt with does not go back that far. I examined from the Burnham presidency to the reign of Bharrat Jagdeo.
I have been advised that it is not legally improper to discuss what the defence will be offering in court but I will restrain myself only to say that I am not the only defence witness. I have been advised to remain calm on the stand and just keep my composure intact at all times. I plan to do just that. As readers would know from the media publication of sessions gone by, only Dr. Roger Luncheon testified for the plaintiff, Mr. Jagdeo. There was a second witness. He was from the Office of the President but his task was to present previous columns of mine without any comment from him on the particular newspaper item that led to the writ of libel.
As it stands, the libel case is only the second occasion a serving CARICOM Head has taken a citizen to court for libel. I have done the research and I didn’t find another one in the CARICOM area but I am open to correction. What I have found are many situations in which former CARICOM Prime Ministers have sued or threaten to sue for libel.
P.J Patterson of Jamaica is currently pondering libel action. However, PM Bissesar of Trinidad has recently sent legal notice to a newspaper for retraction of a story or she will pursue libel charges. In Malta, earlier this year the PM did threaten libel but did not proceed
In my research I have found three Prime Ministers that have gone to court over defamation – Lee Kwan Yu in Singapore; Harold Wilson in the UK and Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. The PM of Qatar had sued for libel but he was not the Head of State or the Head of Government in Qatar. In the case of Guyana, Prime Minister Burnham did sue for character damage.
What does the paucity of libel writs from serving Heads of Government have to do with cross-examination? Once a President or Prime Minister agrees to take the stand, a brilliant lawyer may manoeuvre his way in cross-examination to bring out materials about governmental behaviour that may best be left hidden from the public. Prime Ministers and Presidents may not want to run that risk.
As we saw in Jagdeo’s court battle, Dr. Roger Luncheon admitted under cross examination that he offered the PNC politician and then Chairman of Region Ten, Mr. Mingo a house lot in Pradoville Two. Writing on that aspect of the court proceeding, the Stabroek News editorialized that Mr. Jagdeo’s libel may have backfired on the Government.
Of course, the published part of the trial that really stirred the nation was when in cross-examination again, Dr. Luncheon in response to a question from my lawyer, Nigel Hughes, agreed that no African-Guyanese was qualified to hold an ambassadorial post. The opposition milked that admission of Luncheon during the election campaign last year.
When you take the Mingo house lot offer and Luncheon’s remark on the reason for the absence of African diplomats in Guyana’s Foreign Service, you can clearly see the reason why even serving Ministers and Presidents and Prime Ministers are reluctant to sue for defamation. Things can go badly wrong in the trial. Suppose what comes out in the trial determines the shape of forthcoming national elections? Suppose a simple libel trial causes a Prime Minister to lose his/her power in the election battle?
So what does the defence have up their sleeves this morning? I guess it is best to wait until we take the stand. Speaking for me, my research ability and my capacity to do journalistic investigations will be on display. Was I sloppy in arriving at the presentation of facts or are the facts incontrovertible? I guess it is all up to me. But don’t forget, Mr. Hughes told the reporters at the last day before the adjournment that he has some learned witnesses who will testify. I guess you have to be in court to see and hear them.