Jagdeo seeking to set aside $20M judgment in Ferguson libel case

Dr. Bharrat Jagdeo, Vice President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana
Dr. Bharrat Jagdeo, Vice President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana

Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo, through his lawyers, is seeking to set aside a $20M judgment against him in relation to the libel lawsuit which was filed by former APNU+AFC Minister Annette Ferguson.

Jagdeo has been ordered to pay $20M to the former minister by Justice Sandra Kurtzious after he failed to file his defence within the time specified in accordance with the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR).

Annette Ferguson

However, Attorney General Anil Nandlall says an application is being prepared to have this judgment set aside.

See full statement below:

Today Marshals of the High Court served upon the Office of Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo, an Order of Court which states that Default Judgement was granted on the 11th day of March, 2021 against Mr. Jagdeo in the sum of Twenty Million Dollars ($20,000,000) along with costs in the sum of Seventy Five Thousand Dollars ($75,000) in certain proceedings filed against Bharrat Jagdeo by Annette Ferguson.

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

This default Judgment stems from libel proceedings filed by Ms. Ferguson against Mr. Jagdeo on the 9th day of January, 2020. These proceedings included applications for Injunctions. Mr. Jagdeo was represented by Mohabir Anil Nandlall, who appeared at the hearings for the injunctions, filed the required affidavits, and made legal submissions.

On the 25th day of February, 2020, a Judge of the High Court dismissed the Applications filed for Injunctions after considering the Affidavits and hearing the legal submissions made. Mr. Jagdeo pleaded the defence of justification and fair comment in his Affidavits.

At or about the 24th of February 2020, a Defence on behalf of Mr. Jagdeo became due under the Rules of Court. It would be observed that this was a mere week before March 2nd 2020 General and Regional Elections.

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 on the List as well as the party’s Assistant Chief Elections Scrutineer, had multiple responsibilities in relation to and in connection with the impending elections, including meeting with the Guyana Elections Commission, meeting with International Observer Teams, planning and preparing for Election Day as well as campaigning across the country.

As a consequence, the Defence though prepared was never filed in the Court.

Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Anil Nandlall

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.

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.

The aforesaid exceptional circumstances, contributed to the error of the non-filing of the Defense not being detected. It is interesting to note, that the default judgement was obtained over one year after the Defence became due and Mr. Jagdeo, nor his Lawyers were in any manner notified, whatsoever, so that their default could have been remedied.

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.

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.