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JACK TO PAY $.2M

By JADA LOUTOO Friday, July 25 2014

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CHAGUANAS councillor Faaiq Mohammed who was accused by Independent Liberal Party (ILP) leader Jack Warner, last year, of taking a bribe is set to receive just under $.25 million in compensation for the attack on his character by the former government minister.

The figure of $220,000 was awarded to Mohammed by Justice Vasheist Kokaram yesterday, who held that the allegation made by Warner was “out-of-place, irresponsible and unsubstantiated.”

“There is absolutely no basis for the allegation of corruption which was levelled by Mr Warner against Mr Faaiq Mohammed,” the judge said. Warner was not in court when the judge gave his ruling, however Mohammed speaking to reporters after, said he considered the sum fair, but added he would have preferred a public apology from Warner.

“The judge made a proper statement that we should review the law and look toward making the defendant apologise because assassinating someone’s character is a serious thing. In this day and age all you have is your character.

“The money will not stop the hurt because sometimes up to this day when I hear the words, which I will not repeat, but when I hear the words, I still feel something inside,” Mohammed said as he left the Hall of Justice in Port-of-Spain with his parents and one of his lawyers, Kelvin Ramkissoon.

“At least I might still use this money and do something good for the people and it might exonerate my name,” Mohammed said. The 25-year-old UWI student initiated the lawsuit after he voted for a United National Congress (UNC) candidate for the post of presiding officer during the first meeting of the Chaguanas Borough Corporation, almost a month after the local government elections last October.

Mohammed, the councillor for Charlieville, claimed he was immediately expelled from the party by Warner, who then made defamatory statements about him, accusing him of taking a bribe.

Warner, in May, admitted defaming the expelled ILP member and accepted liability in the case.

Neither party could arrive at a settlement and as such the judge was forced to make a ruling on what the final figure should be.

Kokaram said Warner’s concession of liability could only mean that he accepted that his remarks could not be substantiated and were not made on an occasion which justified such a statement nor could it be reasonably said to be a responsible statement about Mohammed’s character and the manner in which he cast his vote.

He said the statements by Warner concerned corruption in public office as the taking of a bribe of $2.5 million or any sum was a criminal offence and a breach of the codes of public office.

“The more closely it touches the claimant’s personal integrity, professional reputation, honour, courage, loyalty and core attributes, the more serious it is likely to be. “I hope that by my making these clear statements at the outset I have demonstrated that the defamatory statements and their imputations of corruption were out of place, irresponsible and unsubstantiated,” Kokaram said.

“Having regard to the nature of our relatively young society and the emphasis that should be placed on development of self esteem and character as an inherent good for the advancement of our democracy the court should begin to examine more effective remedies that may be appropriate to suitably compensate a victim of this tort yet still keeping faith the objectives of the damages remedy,” he said.

The judge said the time had come to revisit the law of remedies in defamation law to ensure it kept in step with its objective of providing an effective remedy for persons. “We are presently out of step in our defamation reform with the rest of the Commonwealth,” he said.

According to Kokaram the law of damages in defamation cases fell short on vindicating someone’s reputation and was instead an obsessed conversion of dollar values of reputations.

“The real healing effect of a public or private apology or a public statement made in open court as recompense may be just as or more effective than a pound of silver,” he said.

In Mohammed’s case as he assessed the evidence, Kokaram said it was clear the councillor’s vote was motivated by his own conscience and what he perceived to be the will and desire of the people he represents in Charlieville. “It was not a decision taken for private gain but in his view was a vote made for the advancement of his community,” the judge said. Warner was ordered to pay costs in the sum of $42,000. Mohammed was represented by Avory Sinanan, SC and Kelvin Ramkissoon while William McCormick, QC, Om Lalla and Dereck Balliram represented Warner.

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