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HomeNewsCaribbean NewsSt Lucia housing minister Richard Frederick required to pay for ‘defamation’

St Lucia housing minister Richard Frederick required to pay for ‘defamation’

By Caribbean News Global contributor

CASTRIES, St Lucia – On December 18, 2023, the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court announced the judgement on assessment of damages for defamation – Agnes Francis [Claimant] and Richard Frederick, Almus Mc Donald trading as MCDOWALL Broadcasting Corporation [Defendants] – damages for the defamation of $60,000.00; six percent per annum from the date of judgment to payment, and prescribed costs of $9,000.00.

Appearances were made by Fidel Michel and Renee St Rose for the claimant and Horace Fraser for the defendant.

Section [23] the defendants published the words complained of is ascribed:

“Now speaking about transparency, what exactly is happening at the tourism authority. I haven’t said tourist board, you know, because I am kind of immune to some of those changes that were being made or that are made. Tourism authority. Yes, Agnes Francis, has resigned as Chairman of the board, Chairperson of the board. Agnes Francis I want you to tell us exactly what happen. I want you to tell us what happen. Is it true that notwithstanding Allen Chastanet had assisted you and your husband, that you were so sick of him, that you spoke negativity overtly in relation to him. Is that true. Um. And is it true it got back to him. Now Agnes Francis what was your salary supposed to have been? What was your salary supposed to have been? Wasn’t your salary supposed to have been twenty-five thousand dollars/ um, wasn’t it? Were you actually causing yourself to be paid forty thousand dollars a month? Is that true? I’m asking. What about the per per diem that you paid yourself when you travel? Now for those persons who don’t know what pay diem is, a per diem sorry, per diem is am when you travel as a government employee, you are given a daily allowance to spend in the country that you are going on government’s behalf. That’s what it is. So there is a stipulated rate for some officers, it may be a hundred dollars, others one twenty one thirty it all depends. But, is it true Agnes, that your per diem was supposed to have been one twenty, a day, but when you travelled, you were paying yourself, or causing yourself to be paid seven hundred dollars a day? Is that true? What about a chair? Is it true you bought a chair for five thousand dollars? Huh? Huh, but, but, did they threaten to make all those deductions from the cacaduh you will get now? Did they? I’m asking. By the way what happened on Tuesday Agnes? Is it true you were denied access to the office? Were you denied access and why? And were you brought or taken to the office yesterday the holiday, under escort, to supervise what you were taking? Mmh? But Agnes, you caan feel bad if they deny you access you know. That is a trait of the united workers party. It is. When Stephenson King unfortunately was replaced as leader of the opposition by Gale Reigobert, they locked Stephenson King out of his office, and denied him access. You remember that. So who are you? Who are you? You’re a small fry. Mmh. They did it to an ex prime minister. If they can do it to an ex prime minister, what on earth do you expect. So we need to know what is happening. And Agnes I look forward to you answering those questions. But what I can tell you folks, there is trouble brewing in the camp. Oh yes …….”

Justice Rohan A Phillip, High Court Judge [1] “This is an application for assessment of damages on a judgment in default of defence entered on 15th May 2019. The claimant filed a claim for defamation seeking damages, injunctive relief, interest and costs. The defendants did not file a defence within the time prescribed under the Civil Procedure Rules, 2000 (as amended) (CPR) and judgment in default of defence was entered against the defendants.”

[2] “On 12th February 2021, the claimant applied with a supporting affidavit for the injunction to restrain the second defendant, whether by himself, his servants or agents or otherwise, however, and to restrict the first defendant, whether by himself, his servants or otherwise, howsoever from publishing or causing to be published the said or any similar words contained in the claim herein defamatory of the claimant and fixing a date for the assessment of damages. The court granted the injunction and directed the parties to file and serve their witnesses’ statements and written submissions regarding the assessment of damages scheduled for 18th October 2021.”

The Claimant’s Case [Evidence] in part … [4] “In cross-examination, the claimant confirmed that she had seen the program ‘Can I Help You’ before November 2018 and regularly appeared on radio and television during her stewardship of the Saint Lucia Tourism Authority. The claimant was referred to several paragraphs of her witness statement. First (para 13), she acknowledged that she stated there were thousands of viewers and provided the court with proof of her assertion. Still, she conceded that she did not provide evidence of the television coverage. Next (paras 14, 16 and 24), she stated that the witness statement did provide some examples of these assertions, and the attachments were clear and proof of these assertions. She could not recall whether a photograph of her was displayed during the broadcast.”

The Defendants’ Case [13] The defendants did not file any witness statements but, on 6th July 2021, filed a document styled ‘Reply to Application for Assessment of Damages’.

In part, they contend that: “… 3. The claimant has failed to make out a case for aggravated, punitive or exemplary damages. She presented no proof that the defendants knew they were committing a tort or were reckless and intended to profit from their wrongdoing. In this regard, the defendants will rely on the first defendant’s questions and his invitation to the claimant to answer those questions.

“4. The claimant provided no proof or supporting evidence of the matters in paragraphs 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 18, 19, 22, 24, 27, 29 and 32 of the witness statement. While paragraphs 20 and 21 are hearsay and irrelevant, and as to paragraph 30, the publication had nothing to do with the claimant’s competence in the field of tourism.

“5. Regarding paragraph 25 of the witness statement, the defendants could not file a defence to the claim as they sought information from the claimant, who stole a march by applying for the judgment in default while counsel were engaged in discussions.

“6. The defendants contend that the claimant is not entitled to an award of damages on the evidence presented.”

Discussion [21] In Gatley on Libel and Slander,13 the learned authors observed: “9.4 General Damages Compensatory and 9.5 Matters affecting the level of award 64.”

[29] Consequently, considering the authorities cited by both sides, particularly Victoria Alcide, Rishatha Nicholls, Victor Williams (and the authorities referred to therein), and Kevin Huggins, and the facts of this case, and the time that has elapsed since some of these authorities. I acknowledge a presumption of damage in a defamation case for injury to the claimant’s reputation. I determined that an appropriate award to the claimant for the defamation is $60,000.00 in general damages for her inured feelings, distress, grief, humiliation and embarrassment, and presumed reputational damage.

 [30] For these reasons, IT IS ORDERED that:

“1. The defendants shall pay the claimant damages for the defamation of $60,000.00 together with interest under Article 1009A of the Civil Code at the statutory rate of 6 percent per annum from the date of judgment to payment. 2. The defendants shall pay the claimant the prescribed costs of $9,000.00.”

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