Jagdeo loses bid to set aside default libel judgement

Justice Sandra Kurtzious has affirmed her awarding of a default libel judgement against Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo. Initially awarding $20 million in damages, Justice Kurtzious on Wednesday, however, recalled that quantum, and will hold a further hearing on July 28, 2021, with the parties to assess the quantum of damages to be awarded.

Back in March, Justice Kurtzious rendered the default judgement against Jagdeo in a libel suit filed against him by former APNU/AFC Minister Annette Ferguson. The former minister had applied for and was granted the default judgement after Jagdeo failed to file a defence within the prescribed time outlined in the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR).

Jagdeo’s lawyer Devindra Kissoon shortly after moved to have the judgement set aside. Among other things, he argued that Jagdeo’s failure to file a defence was a result of his then-lawyer Anil Nandlall, SC, the current Attorney General 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 election-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.

Delivering her ruling via Zoom on Wednesday, Justice Kurtzious held that the reasons provided by Jagdeo for his non-filing of a defence, though numerous, left the court worried about their accuracy as they were not supported by available material.

“There must be proper evidence before the court,” the High Court Judge noted in her ruling.

Given that Jagdeo claimed his lawyer at the time was preoccupied, Justice Kurtzious said that he should have been mindful of retaining a new counsel.

Among other things, Justice Kurtzious questioned how Nandlall’s law office could be shuttered for several months when he represented Jagdeo in several election-related matters. As the court gears up for damages assessment hearing, the parties were instructed to file submissions.

In the interim, Jagdeo was ordered to pay $75,000 in court costs to Ferguson.

The lawsuit stemmed from statements made by Jagdeo in which he said Ferguson acquired significant wealth within only two years of serving in the Government. Jagdeo also questioned the former Government’s minister’s acquisition of land at Eccles, East Bank Demerara.

Outlining the statement made about Ferguson by Jagdeo, Justice Kurtzious held, “They were very serious as they referred to her as being corrupt.” The Judge said, too, that the statements cannot be justified by the defence of fair comment as was being contended by Jagdeo.

Jagdeo alleged that the former minister used public office to acquire several plots of lands at Eccles, East Bank Demerara on which she was building a sprawling house. The statements made by Jagdeo were later published in the Guyana Times.

In the lawsuit, Ferguson maintained the statements were slanderous and untrue and caused irreparable damage to her character and reputation. Moreover, Ferguson had argued that the statements and publications suggested that she acquired unexplained wealth by dishonest means.

The former Government minister had called on Jagdeo and Guyana Times to provide evidence to the court to support the statements. The former APNU/AFC Government Minister contended that the article was deliberately written and circulated by Guyana Times to tarnish her reputation and to cause right-thinking persons to think that she is a corrupt and dishonest person.

Ferguson is represented by lawyer Lindon Amsterdam.

In the meantime, Ferguson’s lawsuit against Guyana Times is still before the Court.