ATTORNEYS for former Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) member Akil Abdullah is relying on parliamentary privilege as his defence of a threat of legal action by the Prime Minister over an interview played during a plenary session of the Tobago House of Assembly in July.
Abdullah had alleged Dr Rowley was part of a conspiracy to discredit Chief Secretary Farley Augustine and the THA administration. The alleged conspiracy included bribing Abdullah to swear a false declaration.
On July 26, Rowley’s attorney Elena Araujo wrote to Abdullah calling on him to retract his statements, apologise and give an undertaking not to repeat the “baseless, false and malicious and slanderous” statements.
On August 30, Abdullah’s attorneys Andrew Ramsubeik, Simbhoonath Sawh and Varun Debideen responded to Araujo’s letter.
Ramsubeik said, “Having reviewed your letter, we respectfully state that the contents therein, in particular, the statements being relied upon by your client in pursuit of the suggested legal recourse were presented/shared during a special plenary session of the Tobago House of Assembly.
“As such, the said statements are absolutely privileged in accordance with section 70 of the Tobago House of Assembly Act Chapter 25:03 and precluded from use by your client and/or any other individual in pursuit of any legal recourse as against our client.
“We further state that the aforementioned affords our client an absolute defence to any claim which your client proposes to lay as against ours, which we trust your client will consider together with the issue of legal costs of any defamation matter and absolute defences thereto, prior to his initiation of same, if at all in the circumstances."
Section 70 of the Tobago House of Assembly Act Chapter 25:03 provides that: “70. (1) Subject to the Rules and Standing Orders of the Assembly, there shall be freedom of speech in the Chamber of the Assembly.”
Dr Rowley spoke of his intended legal action against Abdullah at a post-Cabinet press briefing on Thursday.
He said, “I did issue a pre-action protocol to the gentleman who I saw in the assembly telling stories about his relationship with me. I did in fact ask him to retract his potion.
“You know how these things go. You issue a pre-action protocol letter and you wait. The person asks for time and you give them time…And then the person came back saying they have privilege so that matter is on the way to court.”
The pre-action letter said Abdullah’s statements “damaged the good name of the intended claimant and have damaged his reputation and have brought him into public odium and disrepute thereby exposing him to public ridicule and contempt.
“At the time the statements were made, you knew them to be untrue and they were calculated: To disparage the intended claimant in his profession as a politician and political leader; to call into question his conduct in public office as Prime Minister of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago and chairman of the National Security Council and to impute unfitness for office or misconduct in office; to impute that the intended Defendant (the Prime Minister) has engaged in criminal behaviour; and to impute that the Prime Minister has acted unconstitutionally.”