Steps being taken to set aside default judgment against Jagdeo in Ferguson libel case
Steps are being taken to overturn the High Court default judgment passed down by Justice Sandra Kurtzious, ordering Vice-President, Bharrat Jagdeo, to pay the former Housing Minister, Annette Ferguson, more than $20 million in damages for libel.
According to the Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall, the Vice-President did not get the chance to file a defence in the case. In providing an update on the case via a video posted to his Facebook page, Nandlall said that the judgment was obtained on March 21, 2021, and was granted without the knowledge of the VP or his representing counsel.
Libel proceedings were filed by Ferguson in January 2020 against Jagdeo and the Guyana Times newspaper over statements he made at a press conference alleging that she owns three plots of land at Eccles, East Bank Demerara (EBD) which she acquired while in government.
An injunction seeking to muzzle the then Opposition Leader was later denied by the High Court. These proceedings, according to the AG, concluded in late February, weeks before the country voted in the March 2, 2020, General and Regional Elections.
The Attorney-General explained that a defence was then slated to be filed around the said time, however, ensuing events from the March elections and recount stymied this.
Added to that, the AG said the COVID-19 pandemic played a role as he and his staffers were prevented from transacting business with the Court Registry.
All these factors contributed to a defence not being filed, he said.
“Though one was drafted, it was not filed but no notice was sent to us saying that the defence was due,” the AG continued.
Ferguson later filed an application for default judgment in March leading to the ruling.
“The normal practices of that application being served on the other side, so that the other side can get an opportunity to come forward to offer an explanation as to why the defence was not filed, was not done. Rather, the ultimate step was taken and judgment was granted without his or his lawyer’s knowledge. That is not a normal thing,” Nandlall said.
On another note, the Attorney-General pointed out too that no hearing was held to assess the evidence, as, in the ordinary course of events, evidence needs to be assessed by a hearing to which a defendant is able to question and examine it.
“That did not take place, so how did this Judge arrive at the sum of $20 million dollars?” the AG asked.
“There are steps in place to address such occurrences where a default judgment was handed down without a defence, so we are hoping that this transpires here and we can get an opportunity to present it as Mr Jagdeo has a good defence to this case and we hope we get to put it before the court.”