Jagdeo challenging default libel judgment at Full Court

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Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo has moved to the Demerara Full Court to challenge the granting of a default libel judgment against him by Justice Sandra Kurtzious.

In a Notice of Appeal filed on Monday by his lawyer Devindra Kissoon, Jagdeo complains that he is dissatisfied by the ruling and wants it to be set aside. He is also asking for an interim order staying the enforcement of Justice Kurtzious’s decision until his appeal is heard and determined.

Last Wednesday, the High Court Judge had affirmed the default judgment that she initially granted on March 11, 2021, after dismissing an application by Jagdeo had applied to have it set aside.

However, in upholding her previous ruling, Justice Kurtzious recalled her previous award of $20 million in damages to former APNU/AFC Government minister Annette Ferguson who had mounted the lawsuit against Jadego in January 2020.

The Judge has scheduled a damage assessment hearing for July month-end. Jagdeo was also ordered to pay Ferguson $75,000 in court costs.

Justice Kurtzious rendered the default judgment after Jagdeo’s lawyer at the time, Anil Nandlall, SC, now the Attorney General, failed to file a defence within the time prescribed time in accordance with Part 12:01 (2) (d) of the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR).

Ferguson had claimed that Jagdeo, who was at the time Leader of the Opposition, made defamatory statements in which he questioned her acquisition of a house lot and the construction of her home at Eccles on the East Bank of Demerara.

She also complained that the unjustified statements have tarnished her reputation.

At the Full Court, Jagdeo is also seeking an order granting him leave to file a defence in the claim.

Hoping to have the judgment set aside, he argues that Justice Kurtzious erred in law and in fact when she found that he had no prospect of defending the claim.

He argues also that the Judge erred and misdirected herself in law by entering a default judgment against him without considering all of the grounds of his defence, including but not limited to the defence of justification.

Also, he argues that Justice Kurtzious erred in law and in fact by attempting to assess the evidence and conducting a mini-trial, as opposed to merely finding that he had a real prospect of success, overlooking and failing to assess the facts averred in his pleadings which would be proved at trial.

Having examined the statements Jagdeo made about Ferguson, Justice Kurtzious held that they were very serious allegations, as they suggested she was corrupt and involved in misappropriation. In that regard, the Judge said the defences relied on by Jagdeo could not stand.

“[Jagdeo] must have bourne the seriousness of the allegations when he compounded his utterance (for) he dared [Ferguson] to sue him. His utterances, therefore, do not meet the threshold of public concern. They were uttered in the face of materials that ought to have put him on notice that his utterances were not accurate. [Jagdeo] also failed to disclose the source of the information he disseminated,” the Judge noted.

Moreover, Jagdeo contends that the Judge erred in law and in fact by finding that the explanation proffered by him for failure to file the defence was not good and substantial.

Kissoon had previously submitted that his client had a good reason for failing to file a defence. The lawyer had submitted that his client’s then-lawyer, Anil Nandlall, now the Attorney General, was preoccupied, having been responsible for a large part of PPP/C’s March 2020 national elections campaign

The lawyer also submitted that Nandlall was also extensively and exclusively engaged in matters relating to elections, including acting as lead counsel for Jagdeo in election-related litigation, as well as matters involving a recount of votes.

But although the reasons for the non-filing of a defence proffered by Jagdeo were numerous, Justice Kurtzious said, “They left the court unconvinced as to their accuracy and reasonableness.”