The Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation has to defend a 23 year-old lawsuit brought by Asha Mirchandani, better known as Mrs. Ram.
A Barbados High Court judge has turned down the state agency’s application to have the case dismissed on the basis of “prolonged” and “inexcusable” delay in the matter brought by the well-known businesswoman, her husband and their former business, McDonald Farms Limited.
And in making the decision Mr. Justice William Chandler has also ordered a case management conference to ensure all “outstanding issues” are resolved “so that the matter can proceed to trial with expedition”.
In a controversial case that was closely followed by Barbadians, the Mirchandanis, who at the time were in the business of slaughtering and processing chickens for wholesale and retail distribution, sued CBC for libel.
It was in relation to the broadcast and publication of The Madd Chicken Song on CBC radio stations and the broadcast and publication of the same song during a CBC television segment on July 1, 1989, and July 28 that same year, respectively.
In response to the suit, CBC said the words complained of were true in substance and in fact and that they constituted fair comment on a matter of public interest.
Recent court documents referred to the “considerable action on the file” between 1992 and 1999, but said the “some inaction” which followed prompted the broadcast company’s application to have the matter dismissed.
CBC’s legal team included Queen’s Counsels Sir Henry Forde, John Connell and Hal Gollop.
Connell had argued that their opponents “were guilty of prolonged or inordinate and inexcusable delay in proceeding with the action” and also alleged that “serious prejudice had been caused to the defendant as a result of the said delays, in consequence whereof a fair trial of the action was no longer possible”.
CBC’s counsel also contended that continued delays caused by the plaintiffs’ inaction “prejudiced their ability to call witnesses to give evidence on their behalf since two witnesses had died while other “vital” ones either could not be found or “were otherwise unavailable to give evidence on their behalf”.
But Sir Richard Celtenham Q.C., who along with Clement Lashley Q.C. in representing the Michandanis and McDonald Farms Limited, said based on the facts of the case CBC had not met the required burden of proof that there was inordinate and inexcusable delay by the plaintiffs or their lawyers.
To support his view, Sir Richard told the court it was always his clients’ desire to proceed with the matter, and that is why a Notice of Intention to Proceed was filed on May 21, 2002.
He pointed out that at that time CBC did not apply to dismiss the action and that a second such notice was filed on April 16, 2004, which meant his side had “done everything in their power to ‘push the process forward’.” Sir Richard also noted that between the date of filing the
Statement of Claim and the related Court of Appeal decision there were “many delays” for which the plaintiffs were not responsible, including waiting two and a half years for a judgment, against which CBC appealed.
In denying CBC’s application for dismissal, Chandler said the delay, though inordinate, “could be excused on the basis that the parties were seeking to arrive at an amicable settlement and that the time within which they sought to do so was not unreasonable”. (SC)