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Jagdeo to ask High Court to throw out GYD$20 million libel judgement for Annette Ferguson

Last Updated on Tuesday, 30 March 2021, 21:28 by Denis Chabrol

Bharrat Jagdeo                  Annette Ferguson

Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo, against whom a GYD$20 million judgment was issued by the High Court for defaming former coalition Housing Minister Annette Ferguson, failed to file a defence because of the 2020 election issues and the closure of High  Court operations due to the coronavirus, Senior Counsel Anil Nandlall said Tuesday.

Mr. Nandlall said his client would be asking the High Court to discard the judgement which could see Mr. Jagdeo being jailed or his assets confiscated if he fails to pay Ms. Ferguson the damages awarded. “The Rules of Court provide for an application to be made to set aside default judgements and currently, an application to this effect is being made. Mr. Jagdeo has every intention of defending these proceedings,” said Mr. Nandlall.

Reacting to Justice Sandra Kurtzious’ judgment, Mr. Nandlall said the Judge also did not inform Mr. Jagdeo’s lawyers of the default judgment without notifying his lawyers in any manner so that their default could have been remedied. Mr. Nandlall, who is now the Attorney General following last year’s general and regional elections, also criticised Justice Kurtzious for not informing Mr. Jagdeo’s lawyers about the calculation of the damages.  “Significantly, it appears as though damages were assessed, an examination of the Court’s record does not indicate that there was any hearing where these damages were assessed. Mr. Jagdeo and his Lawyers, even without filing of a Defence, ought to have been notified of such a hearing to be able to interrogate, the evidence presented to the Court. This was not done,” he said.

Mr. Nandlall explained that both he and Mr. Jagdeo had been extremely busy with matters connected to the March 2, 2020 general and regional elections. “As a consequence, the Defence though prepared was never filed in the Court.,” he said. Those responsibilities, he said, included meeting with the Guyana Elections Commission and  international observer teams as well as planning and preparing for Election Day and campaigning across the country.

Mr. Jagdeo is General Secretary of the People’s Progressive Party and Leader of the List of the PPP/C Candidates and Mr. Nandlall, an Executive Member of the PPP, Legal Advisor to the PPP, a candidate and the party’s Assistant Chief Elections Scrutineer,

The judgement was granted without the knowledge of Mr. Jagdeo and his Attorneys-at-Law, and in their absence.

The default judgments stems from libel proceedings filed by Ms. Ferguson against Mr. Jagdeo on the  January 9, 2020. More than one month later on February 25, 2020 the High  Court dismissed her applications for injunctions after the the required affidavits and legal submissions.

Mr. Nandlall noted that Mr. Jagdeo pleaded the defence of justification and fair comment in his Affidavits.

The defence by Mr. Jagdeo had become due on February 24, 2020 under the Rules of Court, a mere week before March 2nd 2020 General and Regional Elections.

Mr. Nandlall further recalled that the elections were then marred by a series of ensuing unforeseen and unprecedented actions, including, a series of litigation, a national recount and then even more litigation, until the results were finally declared on August 2nd 2020.

He added that significantly 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,” he added.

“The aforesaid exceptional circumstances, contributed to the error of the non-filing of the Defense not being detected,” said Mr. Nandlall.