The High Court today ruled that former Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Owen Arthur used words capable of defaming the father of Prime Minister Mia Mottley in the lead-up to the May 24, 2018 General Elections.
On July 23, 2018, Queen’s Counsel Elliott Mottley, now Sir Elliott filed an action in the High Court claiming that words spoken by Arthur during a press briefing on May 14, 2018 were capable of defaming him, based on the meaning or meanings attributed to Arthur’s statement which was published by a number of news outlets.
And when he handed down his decision in the Number 12 Supreme Court before attorneys for both parties this morning, Justice Barry Carrington agreed with Sir Elliott’s claim.
“In the circumstances, taking guidance from the principals and noting what constitutes ‘defamatory’, I hold that the words used by the defendant are capable of having the meaning attributed to them in…the claimant’s statement of claim,” Justice Carrington ruled.
Before giving his decision, the judge quoted from Sir Elliott’s statement of claim which Sir Elliott outlined as possible grounds for defamation.
“In their natural and/or innuendo meaning, the words meant and were understood to mean that the claimant [Sir Elliott] requested the defendant, as Minister of Finance to act ultra vires and unlawfully and grant the claimant a waiver of income tax arrears on income of millions of dollars under the provisions of the Duties, Taxes & Other Payments (Exemption) Act, Cap 67B of the Laws of Barbados,” Justice Carrington said.
He further told the court that the claimant alleged that Arthur’s words meant or were understood to mean that Sir Elliott made the request in circumstances where he knew or ought to know that the said request required the defendant to act ultra vires or unlawfully.
The presiding judicial officer went on to cite another aspect of Sir Elliott’s claim for defamation in which the Prime Minister’s father alleged that Arthur’s statement was capable of conveying the meaning that he, Sir Elliott, had made an outrageous, egregious or highly improper request of the former Prime Minister.
“[He] Made a request of the defendant which was corrupt and/or unethical in that it would have been necessary to take the claimant’s request to the Cabinet of which his daughter, Ms Mia Amor Mottley was a member and thereafter to Parliament of which she was also a member, for its approval subject to a negative resolution,” Justice Carrington quoted paragraph 6 (iii) of Sir Elliott’s claim as stating.
The judge also noted that Sir Elliott’s claim went on to allege that what the former prime minister said about him could be taken to mean he was inviting Arthur to commit a crime, namely, conspiracy to defraud the revenue.
Justice Carrington also referred to paragraph 6 (v) of the claimant’s statement in which he [Sir Elliott] suggested that Arthur’s words meant and were understood to mean that he “was able to have arrears of tax waived probably as a result of a conspiracy involving a public officer”.
Through his lawyers, the former prime minister filed his defence in which he claimed the words he used were fair comment on matters of public, national and historical interest and importance.
His counsel Vernon Smith, Q.C. in association with Hal Gollop, QC contended that the words their client used were true and therefore justified.
The defendant argued he did not impute or imply any motive on the part of the claimant, rather, he gave his reasons why he did not entertain Sir Elliott’s purported application for a waiver.
The defence also indicated that reference to a conspiracy did not mean or suggest that there was one. Arthur’s counsel further insisted that use of the word ‘outrageous’ did not refer to the claimant’s character or reputation, but to his application for a waiver of tax.
The claimant had filed an application to strike out the defence in its entirety, while the defence countered with a Notice of Application for a ruling on “meaning”.
And today, Justice Carrington ruled on what he concluded Arthur’s statement were capable of conveying in its natural and ordinary meaning.
“That the claimant wrongly made an unreasonable request of the defendant to waive the payment of taxes on millions of dollars of income earned by the claimant that involved a process where Cabinet and Parliament approval were necessary and thereby placed the defendant in an invidious position since the claimant’s daughter was a member of Cabinet and Parliament. Further, if the claimant was granted the waiver, it was possibly through a conspiracy with a public officer,” the judge ruled.
But immediately following Justice Carrington’s decision, Arthur’s counsel served notice of his client’s intention to appeal the court’s decision.
Lead attorney for Sir Elliott, Roger Forde, Q.C. did not contest the defence’s application for leave to appeal. Attorney for Arthur, Vernon Smith, Q.C. acknowledged that he had 21 days in which to formally file the appeal application.
In the meantime, Judge Carrington will await the outcome of the Court of Appeal’s decision to determine the direction of trial to deal with the substantive case of defamation.
Sir Elliott wants the High Court to grant him relief in the form of damages, aggravated and/or exemplary damages for defamation spoken and published by Arthur on May 14, 2018 at a press conference.
The Prime Minister’s father is also seeking an injunction to restrain Arthur, whether by himself, “his servants or agents” from further publishing or causing to be published, the same or similar defamatory statements and/or comments.
Sir Elliott also wants costs and such further or other relief the court deems fit.
Neither he nor Arthur attended today’s sitting.
Forde appeared for Sir Elliott in association with Lyn-Marie Simmons and Stewart Mottley.
Also in court today as observers were attorneys Gregory Nicholls, representing the state-owned Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and Shadia Simpson for Barbados TODAY.