Jagdeo seeking to set aside $20M High Court judgement
– after Judge issues ex-parte order in Ferguson libel case
Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo, through his lawyers, is seeking to set aside a $20 million judgement against him in relation to the libel lawsuit which was filed by former A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Minister Annette Ferguson.
Marshals of the High Court on Tuesday served Jagdeo with an order stipulating that he pay $20 million 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).
However, Attorney General and Senior Counsel Anil Nandlall has said that an application is being prepared to have this judgement set aside. In a statement, Nandlall revealed that the judgement was handed down without the knowledge of his client or legal team.
“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,” the statement said.
Nandlall explained that a defence on behalf of the then Opposition Leader became due on February 24, 2020, under the Rules of Court. However, this occurred only one week before the controversial March 2 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 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,” the statement added.
“As a consequence, the defence, though prepared, was never filed in the court. 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.”
Nandlall also recalled that around the time of the elections, Guyana was hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. This caused the Judiciary to close its operations for a period. He pointed out that the Supreme Court Registry was closed and lawyers advised to close their offices.
According to Nandlall, these circumstances contributed to the error whereby the non-filing of the defence was not detected. He also pointed out that the default judgement was obtained over one year after the defence became due and neither Jagdeo nor his lawyers were notified by the court so that the 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,” Nandlall further stated.
The lawsuit was filed in January 2020 by former Housing Minister Ferguson over statements made by Jagdeo at a press conference, where he questioned her acquisition of land and the construction of her house. Both Jagdeo and Guyana Times were named as respondents in the suit.