THE LEADER OF the Opposition, Dr Godwin Friday; former Speaker of the House of Assembly, Jomo Thomas; and several publishers are facing demands for payment of $250,000 for each publication of certain alleged ‘defamatory’ words published against Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves.
In a letter to the Leader of the Opposition, the Prime Minister’s lawyer, Grahame Bollers, indicated that he was writing on behalf of his client who instructed him that on August 7, 2021, there were words used at a New Democratic Party(NDP) press conference that were of concern to him.
This Opposition conference that is the subject of this letter was held to inform the media and the public that a number of supporters of the NDP had apparently been subject to police raids that weekend. That conference was held two days after the protest of August 5, dubbed by some as an “anti-vaccine protest”, that resulted in fires and objects being pelted, one of which caused a laceration to the head of the Prime Minister.
The letter quotes at length a paragraph which it claims is contained in the Opposition leader’s speech during this conference.
Bollers’ letter posits that through the broadcast which was carried live on Nice Radio and online, he published “outrageously defamatory statements of, and concerning, my client”, and that these supposedly caused egregious damage to his client’s reputation, character and standing, and therefore caused serious loss and damage.
The words, Bollers submits, mean and were taken to mean that his client had committed misbehaviour in public office, “an offence punishable by imprisonment and/or civil sanction and damages”.
Further, the letter alleges that the Opposition leader caused these words to be further published in the Vincentian and the News newspapers on August 13.
“…In accordance with my client’s instructions, I will institute three legal actions in defamation in the High Court of Justice for the three separate publications against: 1) Dr Godwin Friday, BDS Limited and Douglas DeFreitas; 2) Dr Godwin Friday, The Vincentian Publishing Company, Desiree Richards and Cyprian Neehall; and 3) Dr Godwin Friday, the News Limited and Shelly Clarke,” the lawyer stated.
That is unless, “in respect of each of these three suits, for each published defamation, the sum of $200,000 plus costs of $50,000 is paid jointly or severally by you and the various other persons and/or entities”.
The letter also advises, “You and the others may wish to apologise so as to mitigate the extent of the damage and loss caused to my client.”
However, the letter assures, “But be absolutely clear of my client’s determination to have you and the others pay” for the alleged publication of false and malicious statements.
There does not seem to be a deadline given for payment, but only an assertion at the end that should they not comply with the “requests”, the lawyer’s instructions are to commence litigation.
This letter is dated August 20, and five days later, during an August 25 NDP press conference the Leader of the Opposition was asked to comment on the matter.
“I’ve received a letter I would say from Ralph Gonsalves’ lawyer, that is a matter that we will have our legal counsel deal with,” Friday responded.
Speaking about the protests that have been occurring, he said, “if they believe that this going to dissuade or discourage people from taking part in similar actions, from exercising their democratic rights now that people are starting to regain that confidence that they should do so, then they’re sorely mistaken.”
He added, “That’s just another distraction but I wanna focus on what is important to people, what deals with the issues that people are sorely concerned with, and legitimately concerned with, that brought them out on the streets of Kingstown repeatedly and will do so again until Government stands up and listen, because the people are the ones who are in charge, not the Government.”
There was also a letter penned to former Speaker Jomo Thomas, who writes a weekly opinion column “Plain Talk” for the Vincentian newspaper.
Speaking on Boom 106.9 yesterday, August 26, Thomas commented: “I did say that I have consulted with some attorneys and I would not be talking about it. My attorneys would deal with it, and as I said on my radio program on Monday night you can expect a fulsome and vigorous response to the pre-action letter and if they intend to go any further, we will be up to the challenge.”
The Prime Minister’s lawyer is positing that Thomas, in an August 13 article titled “Fool’s gift, Nation’s loss”, falsely and maliciously published defamatory words about his client.
The words used would mean that his client committed misbehaviour in public office and abused his offices “to persecute people and deny them their legal rights”, Bollers submitted.
The counsel has caused severe damage and loss to his client, the lawyer claimed in the letter, and so too has the Vincentian newspaper, its Managing Editor Desiree Richards, and Editor Cyprian Neehall.
He also sought to put them at notice of “prospective litigation” against Thomas and the Vincentian severally and jointly in the High Court.
Bollers stipulated that $250,000 should be paid in damages and legal costs, or legal proceedings will be instituted against “all of you”.
Further, on August 13, Bollers writes that Thomas caused to be published on iWitness news the ‘Plain Talk’ article in question, which was taken down after being on the site for over 24 hours.
The second publication of the alleged defamation will incur, Bollers outlines, another sum of $250,000 which is to be paid into their office within four weeks.
However, they add that in the all the circumstances the Prime Minister has considered not to pursue any claim “at this time” against iWitness News and its editor Kenton Chance.
Speaking on Star FM yesterday, August 26, the Prime Minister submitted that any time that he exercises the right to protect his reputation, and character, the cry goes up “that Ralph wants to intimidate people, so Ralph is the fault. You defame me, but I am the fault.” He also pointed out that he has ignored instances of defamation many times before.