CCJ Reverses G$15M award in Defamation case, says awards from other Caribbean countries not automatic benchmark

Last Updated on Saturday, 30 July 2016, 14:06 by Denis Chabrol

Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, CCJ – CCJ, Port of Spain. Today the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in Glen Lall & National Media and Publishing Company Limited v Walter Ramsahoye refused to increase the G$15 million award of damages made to Dr Ramsahoye by the Guyana Court of Appeal.

Indeed, it reversed the Court of Appeal’s decision and reinstated the trial judge’s award of G$4.5 million. In its ruling on defamatory material appearing in the Kaieteur News newspaper in 2000, the CCJ held that damages must be awarded in accordance with the law, practice and traditions of Guyana and cannot be assessed on the basis of a comparison of awards made in other Caribbean territories where prevailing socio-economic conditions, including Gross Domestic Profit (GDP), are different.

Between 21 January and 10 February 2000 an article and two caricatures with captions, all referring to Dr Ramsahoye in exceptionally disparaging terms, were published in the Kaieteur News by the Appellants, Glen Lall and National Media and Publishing Co Ltd (‘National Media’).

In 2008 Dr Ramsahoye successfully sued the Appellants for damages for defamation and was awarded G$4.5 million in damages and G$125,000 in costs in the High Court by the Honourable Justice Rishi Persaud, who stated that this award was the highest of its nature in Guyana.

Both Dr Ramsahoye and Glen Lall and National Media challenged the decision in the Court of Appeal. Dr Ramsahoye contended that the award was too low while Glen Lall and National Media argued that the publications were not defamatory and that the damages awarded were unreasonable and excessive. The appeal was heard after the Appellants had paid into court the G$4.5million awarded in the High Court. During the appeal, Glen Lall and National Media conceded that the publications were defamatory but maintained that the award was too high. The Court of Appeal, by a majority, found that the sum awarded was inadequate and did not properly compensate Dr Ramsahoye. It substituted an award of G$15million for damages.

Glen Lall and National Media appealed to the CCJ, arguing that the Court of Appeal was wrong to increase the award. Dr Ramsahoye in his cross-appeal sought to have the award further enlarged and to have an award of interest. The CCJ allowed the appeal and set aside the Court of Appeal’s decision. It concluded that there was no justification for the Court of Appeal to interfere with the trial judge’s award as he had not erred in the application of legal principle nor made an award that was inordinately low. He had taken account of aggravating or punitive factors in making his global award of G4.5million.

The CCJ declined to award pre-judgment interest at this stage as the matter had not been argued and there was no guidance from the lower courts on the point. It held, however, that judgment debt interest continued to run from the date of the High court judgment despite the payment into Court which now had to be paid out to Dr Ramsahoye.

The appeal was heard by the CCJ’s judicial panel comprising The Honourable Justices Nelson (presiding), Saunders, Hayton, Anderson and Rajnauth-Lee. Justice Anderson delivered the judgment of the Court. Mr Sanjeev Datadin and Mr Stephen A Singh were the attorneys representing Glen Lall and National Media. The attorneys representing Dr Ramsahoye were Mr Anand Ramlogan SC, Mr Roopnarine Satram, Mr Chandrapratesh V Satram, Mr Mahendra Satram, Mr Ganesh Hira, Mr Alvin Paraigsingh and Mr Douglas Bayley