With Justice Fidela Corbin-Lincoln refusing a request made by prominent engineer, Charles Ceres, for an injunction against Kaieteur News, Guyana Times and Leader of the Opposition Bharrat Jagdeo who he is alleging circulated misinformation about him in regards to the allocation of several acres of lands, the matter now awaits a case management conference, after which a trial date will be fixed.
Yesterday, Justice Corbin-Lincoln denied Ceres’s request on the basis that the parties (defendants) he is suing say they can show justification for publishing the information.
In fact, Jagdeo’s lawyer Anil Nandlall, explained the Judge related that she came to a decision after reading the applications and affidavit in support filed by all the parties.
According to Nandall, Justice Corbin was not inclined to grant an injunction at this stage having considered that the case involves freedom of speech, a right guaranteed under the Constitution.
Against this backdrop, he further explained, “The law says that once a defendant in a libel matter pleads that he will justify the statements made in the interest of freedom of speech and in the interest of a democratic society which encourages free expression; then an injunction must not be granted and a person must be allowed to speak freely.”
He, therefore, added that only if the defendants fail to establish the defence of justification at their trial, only then can the plaintiff be awarded the damages he is seeking, and even punitive damages.
In the statement of claim filed by lawyer Darren Wade, Ceres and his wife Ndibi Schwiers, are seeking damages in excess of $200M from Jagdeo for statements he made claiming that she, through her husband, obtained public lands at Canje Creek, Bohemia and Liliendaal by corrupt, illegal and criminal means.
The parties are also seeking damages in excess of $200M for the publishing of the unsubstantiated and defamatory statements via the People’s Progressive Party’s Facebook page and YouTube channels. The applicants are also seeking in excess of $200M each, from news publications, Kaieteur News and Guyana Times, for publishing articles based on Jagdeo’s claims that the couple might have obtained the said lands via immoral, improper, illegal and criminal means.
Jagdeo, on the other hand, told the court that he will prove that most, if not all the lands, were allocated subsequent to the passage of the No-Confidence Motion. Apart from the sum worth in damages, the claimants are also seeking retractions and apologies from the news outlets.
In the interim, the parties also asked the Court to consider granting them an injunction against the newspapers to prevent them or their servants from publishing further defamatory statements.
Jagdeo, in response to the $200 million lawsuit said that he is politically, legally and constitutionally enjoined and duty bound to speak out and condemn acts of corruption, nepotism and cronyism involving government and public officers. In fact, Jagdeo, in an Affidavit in Defence, said that he has the legal right to hold these officials to public scrutiny and to reveal and inform the public of executive excesses, abuse of power, mismanagement, incompetence in public offices, as well as the misuse of state resources.
Added to that, Jagdeo said that he further has the legal right to speak out against, “squander mania, violations of the law and the Constitution by the government and public officers and indeed, all forms of public wrongs.”
Jagdeo, who is also General Secretary of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), the only opposition party in the National Assembly, during a press conference, had accused Ceres of obtaining several hundred acres of lands in Regions Six.
The Leader of the Opposition had also spoken of another plot of land at Liliendaal, East Coast Demerara, for which no further details were provided.
Against this backdrop, Jagdeo contends that the allocation of the lands is “legally dubious, if not wholly unlawful.”
According to Jagdeo, all State lands belong to the people of Guyana and he has the duty to inform the public whom are allocated their properties, in what proportion, at what value and under what circumstances. Jagdeo says that if he does not do so, he will be failing in his public, constitutional and political offices as a Member of Parliament, Leader of the Opposition and General Secretary of the PPP.
“Whenever I speak at a Press Conference, in the National Assembly of Guyana, at political meetings and indeed at all public fora, it is my national, constitutional and political responsibility to discharge the aforementioned functions and duties. I deny that my publications have caused any harm or damage to the Applicant/Claimant (Ceres) as alleged or at all,” Jagdeo insists.
In this regard, Jagdeo labeled Ceres’s lawsuit as “frivolous, vexatious and without merit” and urged the court to decline his request for an injunction.
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