Guyana
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Jagdeo intensifies legal battle against defamation payout to Annette Ferguson

Annette Ferguson

Hours after the Guyana Court of Appeal paved the way for the High Court to decide on the amount of damages that prominent Guyanese politician Bharrat Jagdeo has to pay for defaming former Housing Minister Annette Ferguson, he has moved to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) for the libel case to be reopened or struck out altogether.

“The grant of special leave is appropriate since the matters in controversy concern a point of law of public importance, the learned judges of the Court of Appeal making an egregious error of law, the Applicant/Intended Appellant having a real prospect of success, and there being a substantial injustice to the Applicant if the decision of the Court of Appeal is not reversed,” Mr Jagdeo states in his Notice of Application for leave to appeal to the CCJ.

Mr. Jagdeo, against whom the High Court issued a default judgement on March 11, 2023 because he had failed to defend himself, also wants the CCJ to suspend Justice Sandra Kurtzious’ award of damages and costs until the Trinidad-headquartered court hears his appeal. Initially, the High Court judge had awarded GY$20 million to Ms Ferguson.

Mr Jagdeo, in court papers seen by Demerara Waves Online News, is asking the CCJ to set aside that default judgement and send back the case to the High Court.

Alternatively, Mr Jagdeo hopes that the CCJ can hear his appeal of the Full Court’s decision since the Guyana Court of Appeal on September 4, 2023 ruled that a divided Full Court has not made a decision  and that it had no jurisdiction to hear an appeal from that court. “The Learned Judges of the Court of Appeal erred in law by failing to find that the legal effect of a divided Full Court is appealable,” Mr Jagdeo said.

Grounds for appeal to the CCJ, he states, include that the Guyana Court of Appeal erred in law by finding that the applicant acted prematurely  by appealing the default judgement, failing to overturn the Full Court’s refusal to either recall its divided judgement and remit the case to three fresh Full Court judges, grant an extension of time to file a fresh appeal if no decision had in fact been rendered by the Full Court, failing to avert the miscarriage of justice which inevitably flows from its decision, the Applicant being without any remedy despite having a defence to the underlying claim, and failing to grant the Applicant leave to appeal.

PPP General Secretary Bharrat Jagdeo

Ms Ferguson had on January 9, 2020 filed a GY$25 million lawsuit for libel purportedly committed by Mr Jagdeo, as Opposition Leader, on December 5, 2019.

In his affidavit in support of his Notice of Application, Mr Jagdeo said his then lawyer and legal adviser to the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), Anil Nandlall, had been so busy with court cases before and after the March 2, 2020 general elections,  political duties and the court itself had been closed for COVID, all resulting in the inadvertent failure to file a defence on or around February 25, 2020. “I made several inquiries about the filing of a defence, and at all times was under the mistaken impression that the matter had been attended to. I had no reason to believe otherwise, and had I known that the defence was not filed, I would have immediately taken steps to ensure that the proper application was made to the Court,” Mr Jagdeo said.

Mr Jagdeo, a former President and currently Vice President, sought to assure the CCJ that Mr Nandlall, now Guyana’s Attorney General, failure to file the defence was not due to neglect “but rather a combination of unusual and exceptional time sensitive circumstances relating to Guyana’s election, which caused counsel to fail to comply with the time limits established by the rules.”

He said unknowing to him or his lawyer, Ms Ferguson on February 24, 2021 filed for a default judgment which was granted by Justice Kurtzious, awarding GY$20 million in damages and GY$75,000 in costs. He said that was done, without conducting an assessment hearing, “depriving me on an opportunity to be heard at least as to damages.”

Mr Jagdeo blamed the High Court for breaching the civil procedure rules by failing to notify his lawyer of an impending default judgement so that the defence could have been filed, and cited Ms Ferguson for not notifying the High Court of an interlocutory case. “Separately, I have been informed by counsel and verily believe that I have a constitutional right to be notified of an application for a default judgment, which was not done. I believe it to be simply unfair that an applicant can secretly apply for a default judgment without
notification,” he added.