Court awards $4.3M to former GECOM Deputy CEO on defamation case

Vishnu Persaud

Justice Priya Sewnarine-Beharry has awarded $4.3M to former Deputy Chief Elections Officer (DCEO) of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Vishnu Persaud in a defamation case he filed against Commissioner Vincent Alexander, the Guyana National Newspapers Limited – the publishers of the State-owned Guyana Chronicle, and its Editor-in-Chief Nigel Williams.

Persaud had filed the lawsuit against the three defendants over articles published by the newspaper within which Alexander made certain remarks which he [Persaud] argued were untrue and defamatory.

Both articles were in relation to the controversial appointment of Roxanne Myers as the DCEO, even though Persaud, who had also applied for the position, was more qualified – a position which was confirmed by an investigation conducted by the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC).

Commissioner Vincent Alexander

In her ruling, Justice Sewnarine-Beharry highlighted that the publications were made locally and on the worldwide web.

She said “the extent of the damage was compounded by the fact that the publications were made by the first named Defendant [Alexander] who was a long standing GECOM Commissioner and a significant figure in civil society and who the average Guyanese would tend to trust and believe, more so because he was well placed to know the facts.”

Justice Sewnarine-Beharry also argued that Alexander “went out of his way” to publish the statements on platforms which reached readers locally and worldwide.

“He ignored the demand letter sent by the Claimant’s attorney. Rather than publishing a retraction of the article and an apology he defended the statements as true in spite of plain evidence to the contrary,” the judge outlined.

Moreover, she said the repeated publication on the part of the Alexander after Persaud was not selected for the position of DCEO in 2018 is “indicative of malice” as it served no other purpose than to damage the Claimant’s reputation.

Furthermore, she ruled that the Guyana Chronicle is available locally, overseas and on the worldwide web and that the prominence of the newspaper was highlighted by which cited the Chronicle as a trusted source.

Justice Sewnarine-Beharry said the first article made the headline on the front page of the newspaper and both the headline and the article carried photographs of the Claimant.

“The second and third Defendants [Guyana National Newspapers Limited and Nigel Williams] published the Statements without verifying them or seeking to obtain the Claimant’s comments on the allegations against him so as to offer a fair and balanced report. In mitigation, they made corrections to the Page 22 of 22 publications, retracted the articles and offered to publish a second apology (evidenced by Exhibit VP “V”2) although they did not publish the apology crafted by the Claimant. In contrast the case of the first named Defendant there appeared to be an absence of malice on the part of the second and third named defendants,” she posited.

As a result, Justice Sewnarine-Beharry ordered Alexander to pay damages in the sum of $2,500,000 to the Claimant; the second and third named Defendants [Guyana Chronicle and Nigel Williams] are ordered to pay damages in the sum of $1,500,000 to the Claimant jointly and severally.

Additionally, Alexander is ordered to pay costs to the Claimant in the sum of $150,000 on or before 30th September 2020 while the second and third named Defendants are ordered to pay the Claimants the sum of $150,000 jointly and severally on or before 30th September 2020.

Meanwhile, Persaud was represented by Devindra Kissoon and Nicholas Carryl of London House Chambers while Alexander was presented by Senior Counsel Roysdale Forde.