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Express must pay damages

By ANDRE BAGOO Saturday, May 2 2009

click on pic to zoom in
Justice Carol Gobin...
Justice Carol Gobin...

THE High Court yesterday awarded businessman Dr Krishna Persad $49,000 in damages and costs in a successful defamation action he filed against the Trinidad Express newspaper.

High Court Judge Justice Carol Gobin was critical of the newspaper as she ordered it to pay Persad $35,000 in nominal damages and $14,000 in costs for a court story published on December 7, 2005. The story, the judge found, contained an error which was defamatory to Persad. The paper, however, did not issue a correction after the publication of the story notwithstanding a complaint brought under the Media Complaints Authority.

“With the recognition of the importance of the court reporters in our system comes a corresponding obligation of responsible journalism which in the sphere of court reporting means a duty to get it right,” Gobin ruled.

“This was not a case where it is suggested that there was a mistake on the part of the reporter about the outcome of the matter which was the result of his own misunderstanding of legal technicalities. It was a case where the reporter chose to rely on a confidential source who plainly got it wrong.”

“Once it became clear that he had been misinformed, I consider that there was an obligation not only to the claimant but to the public as well to correct the report.

“I have also taken into account the defendant’s conduct in their flagrant disregard for the procedures and findings of the Media Complaints Authority,” the judge said. Persad’s attorney Justin Phelps had successfully argued that his client’s reputation suffered as a result of the article. In its defence, the newspaper argued that an ordinary reader would have realised the error in the article.

Persad was subject to a preliminary inquiry conducted between May 26 and October 27, 2003. On December 16, 2003, the presiding Magistrate Rajendra Rambachan discharged Persad on charges of a million-dollar fraud on the ground that no prima facie case had been made out against him. The Court of Appeal upheld the magistrate’s ruling.

However, the Privy Council ruled on January 12, 2009 that the Magistrate erred in concluding that there was no prima facie case.

The matter was remitted to Rambachan.

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