Mar 31, 2021 News
Kaieteur News – In a default judgment, High Court Justice, Sandra Kurtzious, has ordered Vice President, Bharrat Jagdeo, to pay $20 Million in damages to former Junior Minister of Communities (Housing), Annette Ferguson, for defamation.
Last year before demitting office, the Junior Minister filed a lawsuit against Jagdeo and the Guyana Times Newspaper claiming in excess of $20M in damages for libel. The case against Guyana Times is still pending in Court.
According to the Court Order seen by this publication, the default judgment follows Jagdeo’s failure to file a defence against the libel suit within the required time provided for under Part 12:01 (2) (d) of the Civil Procedure Rules of the Supreme Court of Judicature.
Apart from $20 Million in damages, Jagdeo was also ordered to pay $75,000 in court costs to Ferguson.
A Court Order also stated that if Jagdeo fails to comply with the terms of the Order, he will be held in Contempt of Court, and may be liable to imprisonment or have his assets confiscated.
In response to the judgment, a statement issued by the Attorney General’s Chambers disclosed that Jagdeo’s error of the non-filing of the defence was owing to some exceptional circumstances.
The statement explained that the defence was due at or about the 24th of February 2020, about a week before the Regional and General Elections.
“It would be observed that this was a mere week before March 2, 2020 General and Regional Elections. Mr. Jagdeo is General Secretary of the People’s Progressive Party and Leader of the List of the PPP/C Candidates and (Anil) Nandlall, an Executive Member of the PPP, Legal Advisor to the PPP, a Candidate on the List, as well as, the party’s Assistant Chief Elections Scrutineer, had multiple responsibilities in relation to and in connection with the impending elections, including meeting with the Guyana Elections Commission, meeting with International Observer Teams, planning and preparing for Election Day, as well as, campaigning across the country,” the statement added.
Further, it noted the elections were then marred by a series of ensuing unforeseen and unprecedented actions, including, a series of litigation, and a national recount and then even more litigation, until the results were finally declared on August 2, 2020.
“In March 2020, Guyana was hit with the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused the Judiciary to close operations for a period, barring election related litigation. In consequence, the Supreme Court Registry was closed and lawyers were advised to close their offices.”
As a consequence, the statement noted that the defence though prepared was never filed in the Court.
The release pointed out that it is interesting to note that the default judgment was obtained over one year after the defence became due, and Jagdeo nor his Lawyers were in any manner notified, whatsoever, so that their default could have been remedied.
While the ruling has been passed, the statement outlined that steps are being taken for the default judgment to be set aside in accordance with the Rules of the Court.
“…Currently, an application to this effect is being made, Jagdeo has every intention of defending these proceedings,” the statement added.
The court case stems from the publication of an article by the newspaper that claimed that Ferguson used her office as Minister to acquire more than one parcel of land at Eccles. The statements made by Jagdeo, at a press conference, were later published in the Guyana Times.
Jagdeo alleged that the former Minister used public office to acquire several plots of land at Eccles, East Bank Demerara, on which she was building a sprawling house. In the lawsuit, Ferguson maintained the statements were slanderous and untrue and caused irreparable damage to her character and reputation. As a result, Ferguson requested the millions in damages from Jagdeo and the publication. The claim drafted by Ferguson’s attorney, Lyndon Amsterdam, outlined on December 11, 2019, an article of the newspaper reported that Jagdeo made allegations against Minister Ferguson, claiming that she has had a swift rise in wealth within two years of becoming a Minister.
The applicant (Ferguson) had asked Jagdeo and Guyana Times to prove to the court, with evidence that claims made about misappropriation, rise in wealth, and the Minister’s ownership of three house lots at Eccles, East Bank Demerara (EBD), are true. She contended that the tenor and contents of the article suggest that as a Minister in Government, she acquired unexplained wealth by dishonest means.
She also contended that contents of the article were deliberately written and circulated by the newspaper to tarnish her reputation as a Minister of Government and cause right thinking person’s to think that she is a corrupt and dishonest person.
Ferguson noted that the newspaper also used an aerial picture in support of the article to create the impression to the public that the claims were true that she has more than one parcel of land, whilst that is not true.
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