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Jagdeo asks High Court for urgent stay of $20 million libel judgment

High Court Judge Sandra Kurtzious in a default judgment has ordered Vice President Dr. Bharrat Jagdeo to pay $20 million in damages for libel to former APNU/AFC Government minister, Annette Ferguson. The judgment was awarded after Jagdeo failed to file a defence in the proceedings which were instituted in January 2020. The judgment was in keeping with Part 12:01 (2) (d) of the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) of the Supreme Court of Judicature.

However, Jagdeo is seeking to have the judgment set aside. He filed a Notice of Application in this regard Thursday before the same judge. Jagdeo, through his lawyer Devindra Kissoon, submits that his application is urgent since the judgment has been entered and Ferguson may seek to enforce it at any time. This, he said, warrants an immediate stay of the enforcement of the judgment.

In court documents seen by this publication, Kissoon contends that the default judgment granted by Justice Kurtzious is “improper and irregular” since Ferguson has no t fulfilled the necessary requirements for the granting of such a judgment. Given that the former government minister’s claim was for an undisclosed sum of damages, Kissoon further contends that the High Court judge should not have issued such a judgment, but rather invite his clients’ lawyers for an assessment.

Moreover, Jagdeo argues that Ferguson’s lawsuit ought to have been dismissed for delay in accordance with Part 13 of the CPR. Against this backdrop, Jagdeo is also seeking an order dismissing Ferguson’s Statement of Claim.

According to Kissoon, Jagdeo’s failure to file a defence was as a result of his then-lawyer, Anil Nandlall being preoccupied with preparations for the March 2020 General and Regional Elections.

Even after the end of the elections, Kissoon said that Nandlall continued to be extensively and exclusively engaged in matters relating to elections, including acting as lead counsel in elections related litigations, as well as matters involving a recount of votes.

Also, Kissoon said that the COVID-19  pandemic resulted in the shuttering of Nandlall’s law office for several months and the subsequent relocation of files.  As a result, he added that Nandlall did not discover that the defence, though drafted, was not filed with the Court.

“These tasks resulted in Mr. Nandlall inadvertently failing to file the defence though drafted. This inadvertence was not due to neglect, but rather a combination of unusual and exceptional circumstances, which caused counsel to simply be unable to comply with the time limits established by the rules. [Jagdeo] ought not to be penalised for law office inadvertence.”

According to Kissoon, the Vice President has a real prospect of successfully defending the lawsuit since the statements made by him were not defamatory and that the defences of justification, fair comment, qualified privilege, and the provisions of the Defamation Act apply. Apart from the filing of the Notice of Application Thursday, Kissoon also filed a defence.

Jagdeo in the statements questioned how Ferguson acquired lands at Eccles, East Bank Demerara on which she was building a house. The statements made by Jagdeo were later published in an article by the Guyana Times. Ferguson is also suing the Guyana Times for libel. That matter is still ongoing.