As a result of his failure to file a defense within the required time, Justice Sandra Kurtzious has ordered Vice President, Dr. Bharrat Jagdeo to pay $20M in damages to former Minister within the Ministry of Communities, Annette Ferguson in a libel suit she had brought against him last year.

Ferguson had filed the case in January 2020 for statements made by the Jagdeo during his time as Opposition Leader. The former President had accused Ferguson of seeing a meteoric rise in wealth within two years of becoming a Minister. He had also accused her of taking three house lots in Eccles for herself.

Along with the $20M, the court also ordered Jagdeo to pay Ferguson a further cost totaling $75,000. If the Vice President fails to comply, the default judgment states that he would be held in contempt of court and may be liable for imprisonment or have his assets confiscated.
Following the release of the judgment today, Attorney General, Anil Nandlall who stands as Counsel for Jagdeo in the case noted that his client has every intention of mounting a challenge since they had received no prior notifications of the case being due. Nandlall said that the judgment would be opposed since it was granted without the knowledge of Jagdeo and himself and in their absence.

Speaking to the series of events that occurred since the case was filed by Ferguson on January 9, 2020, Nandlall noted that applications for injunctions were made and he was present for those hearings. He noted that the required affidavits were filed which pleaded the Defence of justification and fair comment.

Further to this, Nandlall said that in February 2020, a Judge of the High Court dismissed the Applications filed for Injunctions after considering Jagdeo’s Affidavits and hearing the legal submissions made. In that month as well, he said that a defense on behalf of Mr. Jagdeo became due under the Rules of Court. Nandlall said one has to consider however that the said defense became due a mere week before March General and Regional Elections.

With this in mind, he said that Jagdeo as General Secretary of the People’s Progressive Party and Leader of the List of the PPP/C Candidates and himself, 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 concerning 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 defense though prepared was never filed in Court.

Nandlall further noted that the Elections were then marred by a series of 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 2, 2020.

Another critical factor for consideration he said, is the fact that the nation was hit by the COVID-19 pandemic in March which forced 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 lawyer stated.

The foregoing circumstances he said, contributed to the error of the non-filing of the Defense not being detected. Be that as it may, the lawyer said, “It is interesting to note, that the default judgment 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.”

He added, “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 defense, ought to have been notified of such a hearing to be able to interrogate, the evidence presented to the Court. This was not done.”

Nandlall reminded that the rules of court provide for an application to be made to set aside default judgments. Given the circumstances surrounding the judgment, the lawyer said that an application to this effect is being made.

“Mr. Jagdeo has every intention of defending these proceedings,” the Attorney General concluded.


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