Granger objects to Justice Singh presiding over $2.6B libel trial

PNC Leader David Granger

Former President David Granger has raised objections to High Court Judge Navindra Singh presiding over the trial of the $2.6B libel suit he filed against Guyana Times, Stabroek News, Kaieteur News, and Public Relations Specialist Christopher “Kit” Nascimento.

In fact Granger, through Senior Counsel Roysdale Forde, an Opposition Member of Parliament, has filed an appeal at the Full Court of Demerara against Justice Singh’s decision to hear the case.

In the lawsuit, filed in 2021, the former Guyanese Head of State has alleged that he was defamed in letters relating to the March 2020 General and Regional Elections and the events that unfolded after that. He said letters were sent to the newspapers’ editors by Nascimento, and they were later published.

Apart from the billion-dollar award for damages, he wants the Court to grant him aggravated and exemplary damages, interest, costs, and any such further or other orders the Court deems just.

At the hearing of Granger’s appeal on Thursday, before High Court Judges Damone Younge and Gino Persaud, Forde submitted that Justice Singh determined that he would hear the libel suit without the consent of the parties, in particular that of the claimant, Granger.

According to Senior Counsel Forde, in a letter that was sent to Justice Singh via email, he clearly stated that his client did not consent to Singh being both the pre-trial review and case management conference (CMC) Judge.

He recalled that the first CMC in the lawsuit came to an end on June 15, 2022, and that Justice Singh “purported” to exercise powers vested to him under ‘Part 38: Pre-Trial Review’ of the Civil Procedure Rules of 2016. Since the lawsuit comes up for trial on February 13 and 14, and Granger does not want Justice Singh to proceed, his lawyer Forde is asking the Full Court to stay the commencement of the trial until the determination of the appeal.

For his part, Nascimento’s lawyer Kashir Khan has said that a pre-trial review was not held by Justice Singh. He explained that such a hearing is conducted to explore the possibility of a settlement. Given Granger’s pleadings and the defendant’s defences, the lawyer argued, the purposes for which a pre-trial review are to be held were not satisfied.

“There was no narrowing of any issues; there was no settlement,” Khan told the Full Court.
He contended that the hearing Forde is holding out to be a pre-trial review was another CMC. Although the flysheet uses pre-trial review, Khan submitted, one cannot look at it and say it was that, because it was labelled such; one has to examine what transpired at the hearing.

The lawyer expressed that he has “a difficulty” with persons coming to the court and getting to decide which Judge hears their case. He argued that such a request should not be made unless there is a reasonable apprehension of bias — a legal standard for disqualifying judges and administrative decision-makers.

Forde, in reply, explained that it was not that Justice Singh is biased. In the context of what transpired, he has an issue with his client not consenting and the Judge still opting to conduct the trial without considering the necessary factors.

Justice Persaud remarked that the law contemplates a different Judge for the pre-trial review, and the same Judge for the CMC and trial. “It is not open to the litigant to choose who hears a trial; that is tantamount to Judge-shopping,” Justice Persaud has said.

Judge-shopping is the practice of trying to replace a judge that has been assigned to your file with another one in the hopes that the new judge would be more favourable to your case.

According to Justice Persaud, this practice is a “dangerous road to go down”, especially since the High Court is operating with only 50 per cent of its stipulated complement of Judges. Adding to what Justice Persaud has said, Justice Younge alluded to the Judges’ large caseloads.

If one desires a Judge to recuse himself/herself, Justice Persaud has noted, a formal application has to be made, laying out the reasons for sucha request. In closing, the Judges indicated that they needed time to peruse the record of appeal and to consider the submissions made by the parties. Since the trial is set to start in less than two weeks, they granted a stay (suspended) of the trial proceedings until they rule on April 27 at 13:30h.

Claiming that his reputation was tarnished, former President David Granger, in a 134-page Statement of Claim (SoC), has accused Nascimento of launching and sustaining a series of defamatory attacks against him, from March 2020 to August 2020, through opinions published by the newspapers. According to Granger’s counsel, the attacks were “relentless, and displayed a complete disregard for the truth”.

Granger has said the publications suggested that he was of unsound mind, was a liar, was involved in criminal and illegal activities and practices, and was unfit to be the President of Guyana. Moreover, he said that the pieces penned by the PR Specialist inferred that he was not innocent of any attempt to force fraud on the country, and that he lied to the people of Guyana and the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC), and that he wanted to remain in Government regardless of the will of the people expressed at those elections.

The former President said he denied accusations that he encouraged and/or supported efforts to move to the Courts, inclusive of the Court of Appeal of Guyana and the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), to strip the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Chairperson, Justice (retd) Claudette Singh, of her authority to produce the election results.

He also denied that he is dishonest, deceitful, habitually hypocritical, of dubious credibility, and wanted to remain in office as President to rule without any regard or care, regardless of the consequences to Guyana.

Granger further denied that he used invented irregularities to claim a victory for the APNU/AFC and for himself as President at the national elections, and refused to accept the election results.

He is denying that he permitted his Attorney General (Basil Williams) to argue that the Recount Order was illegal, and that he, along with his lawyers, attempted to throw out the recount he agreed to abide by.

Additionally, he has rejected accusations that he permitted Williams to argue that the GECOM Chairman was obligated to accept the declaration made by former Chief Elections Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield.

According to Senior Counsel Roysdale Forde, during the election period, his client made several public broadcasts to the nation, in which he communicated to the nation, the diplomatic community and civil society that: “As President of Guyana and Leader of the Government, it is my policy that any declaration coming from the Chairman of GECOM will be accepted by the Government of Guyana.”

The Senior Counsel submitted that following the declaration of another candidate as the winner of the elections, Granger accepted the said declaration “as he always stated that he would accept any declaration coming from the Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission.”

Granger has claimed that as a result of the publications, he and his family have suffered and continue to suffer financial injury, constant grave distress, humiliation, embarrassment, indignity, pain, and suffering. He has also claimed that besides damaging his character and reputation, the “statements have no basis in fact, are malicious, grossly inaccurate, and are intended to deceive the public”.

“The effect of the publications was intended to, and calculated to, damage the reputation of [Granger] and expose him to unwarranted hatred, ridicule, vilification, and contempt… The effect of the publications was intended to, and calculated to, also disparage the record of [Granger] as the President of Guyana and as an honest person,” Forde has contended.

“As a result of the said headlines and articles and their dissemination online and offline, [Granger’s] personal and professional reputation and standing has been irreparably and severely damaged, lowered in the estimation of right-thinking members of society, and [Granger] has suffered and continues to suffer financial injury, constant distress, humiliation, embarrassment, indignity, pain, and suffering.”

Having regard to the foregoing, Senior Counsel Roysdale Forde is asking the Court to grant the orders asked for in the claim, as well as substantial costs.

Granger had applied for injunctions to restrain Nascimento and the newspapers, whether by themselves or by their servants and/or agents, from posting, printing, publishing, sharing, recording, or otherwise recreating and disseminating the defamatory letters.

The former Head of State is also seeking a mandatory injunction compelling the newspapers, whether by themselves, their servants and/or agents, to forthwith permanently remove the letters to the editors in question in their online editions.

Nascimento, in an invited comment to this newspaper, had said he was standing by his remarks about the former Head of State. “I am astonished at Mr Granger’s lawsuit. He certainly places an extraordinarily high price on what he believes to be his reputation. I am satisfied that anything I have written or said about Mr Granger was in defence of democracy and the freedom of Guyana,” the PR specialist had said briefly.

Forde was appointed Senior Counsel by Granger. (By: Feona Morrison)