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Rowley wins $.5M

By JADA LOUTOO Thursday, February 13 2014

LABOUR leader Michael Annisette has been ordered to pay Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley close to half a million dollars in damages for defamation.

He will also pay $160,000 to cover the cost of the lawsuit filed by Rowley in 2010.

Justice Ronnie Boodoosingh yesterday ruled in favour of the Opposition Leader, saying the allegations made by Annisette in an article published in Newsday in October, 2009, were defamatory.

The newspaper was not sued and the judge found that the reporter was not at fault in his reporting.

“In my view the words complained of in their totality and context inevitably, conveyed an imputation of impropriety or misconduct on the part of the claimant in his public office,” the judge said.

In an immediate response, Rowley said he welcomed the court’s ruling.

“I’m a firm believer in the impartiality and competence of our courts, and whenever I think my rights are infringed, or I have been wronged, I can go to court, and I will go to court and seek redress. That’s what I do all the time. I’ve done that on more than one occasion, and it demonstrates my abiding faith in the judicial system,” he said yesterday.

He also warned persons against making comments about serious matters and cast aspersions about things they did not know.

Annisette, a former president of National Trade Union Centre (Natuc) and a former Independent Senator, is the current president of the Seamen and Waterfront Workers Trade Union.

The defamatory comments arose from statements made by Annisette accusing the Diego Martin West MP of wrongdoing in the Landate/Scarborough/ HNIC affair. His statements were made in Parliament and were expanded in an interview with Newsday’s reporter Clint Chan Tack. The article was published on October 9, 2009.

The Landate matter was subject to commissions of inquiry, and an Integrity Commission investigation, which found no basis to support the allegations that were made.

Rowley claimed the allegations made by the former Independent Senator were a stain on his political life, and affected his personal and family life as well.

Boodoosingh said he found Annisette’s conduct to be particularly injurious.

“Mr Annisette specifically targeted Dr Rowley by name so there was no doubt in the public’s mind about whom he was speaking,” the judge said.

“There is no doubt that the nature of the defamatory imputations undoubtedly touch and concern both Dr Rowley’s professional reputation and personal integrity. His reputation and standing would have been seriously damaged,” Boodoosingh further noted as he granted an injunction preventing Annisette from uttering the same accusation or having it published or broadcasted.

Boodoosingh said the attack on Rowley must have damaged his reputation especially as it came at a time when he had been removed as a member of Cabinet when he raised questions about oversight of Udecott. In his 28-page ruling, Boodoosingh also advised persons in public life to be cautious of what they say.

“Even the hallowed concept of parliamentary privilege can be threatened if it is abused,” he warned. “Trinidad and Tobago is happily a place where there is an admirable degree of freedom of speech and where public discourse is vigorous and often open. Unfortunately, however, it has become one of those places where persons tend to be loose with facts and opinions about other persons,” the judge noted. Licence, he said, is taken when the facts to not justify conclusions or even where no facts are known.

“Freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the Constitution do not, however, give licence to persons to make unfounded statements about other persons. Even judicial officers are not immune from groundless attacks. Vigorous criticisms of the conduct and the decisions of persons in public life is the right of the public. However, truth, evidence and justification are important,” Boodoosingh noted.

He further said it was important for persons in public life and those who committed themselves to public comments about other persons to “understand that consequences may follow where loose and unproven statements are made.”

Rowley was represented by attorney Reginald Armorer SC, Vanessa Gopaul (Junior) and instructing attorney Jillian Seecharan-Scott. Annisette was represented by Kandace Bharath.

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