|‘You’re on court’s radar’ |
ANDRE BAGOO Tuesday, January 14 2014
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HIGH COURT Judge Justice James Aboud yesterday put Independent Liberal Party (ILP) interim leader and Chaguanas West MP Jack Warner “on notice”, warning him that he has violated civil litigation rules in relation to a libel matter brought against him.
Aboud said any further violation would result in judgment being entered against Warner. Aboud’s stern warning came at the Port-of-Spain High Court where a libel lawsuit by Tabaquite MP and Minister of Works and Infrastructure Dr Suruj Rambachan came up for hearing.
Aboud was yesterday called upon to deal with a preliminary procedural point, namely an application by Warner’s attorney Om Lalla for an extension of time to file a defence. Rambachan is suing Warner for libel over statements Warner allegedly made during the Chaguanas West bye-election campaign last year. The court heard how in July, Warner described Rambachan as “corrupt” and added that he (Warner) has the evidence to prove this claim.
Rambachan filed the lawsuit last November, but to date, Warner has not brought a defence. Yesterday, Lalla — the failed ILP candidate in the recent St Joseph bye-election — applied to Aboud for more time to file a defence, stating Warner was in the process of copying the transcription of recordings and sourcing several documents.
However, Rambachan’s attorney Gerald Ramdeen asked why Warner was only now preparing his defence especially since he was served a pre-action letter last July. Ramdeen noted that Warner had professed, in July last year, to already having evidence while on a political platform.
“The defendant has had five months and two weeks to prepare his defence in this matter,” Ramdeen complained. “And we are being told now he needs another two weeks. How could he not have a transcription of his own speech? This was a prepared speech delivered on a platform. This is an allegation of corruption against a sitting minister of Government. If one wishes to make allegations of this nature, one must be prepared to come and defend them in court,” Ramdeen said. He also noted Warner never replied to the pre-action letter even as civil litigation rules dictate that such letters should be responded to.
In the end, Aboud granted the application for an extension, giving Warner until next week Friday to file a defence. However, the judge warned Warner any further lapses would not be tolerated.
“In the event the defence is not filed, there shall be judgment against the claimant,” Aboud ordered. “I would like to put the defendant on notice that he is now on the court’s radar and I expect every deadline will now be scrupulously complied with.” Turning to Lalla, Aboud said, “You can inform your client that he is now on the court’s radar in terms of compliance!”
The judge further ordered Warner to pay Rambachan’s legal cost for the application for extension, which was assessed at $14,000.
He also urged both litigants to, “come to terms about things”, just as a husband and wife might after a fight when things are said in the heat of the moment.
“If it is that I have unfairly accused my wife of not feeding the cat, I will apologise,” Aboud said. He noted the expense of a trial, which he said could last for as much as eight to ten years. Warner was absent from yesterday’s hearing.