The High Court on Tuesday refused to grant an injunction prohibiting Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo from making statements regarding the acquisition of lands by Minister responsible for housing, Annette Ferguson and prohibiting newspapers from publishing similar content.
At the time of an election when both the claimant and the defendant are running for office, High Court Judge Justice Gino Persaud noted that freedom of speech must be upheld in the public’s interest.
“The importance of leaving free speech unfettered is…rarely more evident than in cases involving political debate and a period preceding elections so as to ensure that opinion and information of all kinds are permitted to circulate freely,” Justice Persaud told the court.
Ferguson in January filed a lawsuit against Jagdeo and the Guyana Times newspaper –which published the information and suggested it had evidence for the claims – for libel.
Jagdeo at a press conference had alleged that the Minister owns three plots of land at Eccles, East Bank Demerara (EBD) which she acquired while in Government.
On Tuesday, Jagdeo was represented by Attorney Manoj Narayan, Guyana Times was represented by Attorney Devendra Kissoon and Minister Ferguson was represented by Attorney Latoya Roberts in place of Attorney, Lyndon Amsterdam.
Justice Persaud in delivering his ruling at the High Court stated that injunctions in libel cases are only granted in exceptional matters. He said the attorneys representing Minister Ferguson have failed to convince the court that this matter is rare or exceptional.
He cited several cases in which similar arguments were made calling for an injunction against political opponents.
But Justice Persaud further stated that “the guiding principle is the court should be extremely slow to intervene in the machinery of an election before it has taken place and should only do so in exceptional circumstances.”
“I am conscious of the need to ensure the free expression of opinion by those who put themselves to the democratic process of election to the population at large,” Justice Persaud said
With the injunction denied, the trial in the matter will commence shortly.
The Minister is claiming in excess of $10M for damages to her reputation.