Friday, June 24, 2011

Legal Matters

Case No. 1

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent, CMC – Radio talk show host Eduardo “EG” Lynch has lost a third appeal in a defamation case brought against him by Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves.

The Court of Appeal has ruled that Lynch pay Gonsalves damages totaling EC$140,000 (US$51,851). In addition, the radio talk show host must pay EC$40,000 (US$14, 814) in costs as well as interests to be assessed dating back to 2008.

“Now, that is a significant judgment,” said attorney Anthony Astaphan, who represented the Prime Minister.

He said the judgement “has to be, if not the highest, one of the highest award for defamation in the history of the (Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States).

“The critical question in that appeal was whether or not Dr. Ralph Gonsalves was entitled to significant damages, whether significant damages would fetter freedom of expression or constitute a chilling effect, whether or not they should pay cost and interest to Dr. Gonsalves,”  Astaphan said.

The case, which was also brought against BDS Ltd., owners of NICE Radio, stemmed from Lynch accusing Prime Minister Gonsalves of using public funds to finance a trip to Rome for members of his family.

Case No. 2

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent, CMC - The Commission of Inquiry into the multi-million dollar Ottley Hall Marina and Shipyard project can now proceed after the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal ruled that its proceedings were not bias, as claimed by former prime minister, Sir James Mitchell.

The Commission, which was set up to determine who, if anyone, is culpable for the disappearance of monies allocated to building the marina, went on a two-year hiatus after Sir James brought a legal challenge objecting to its proceedings. He had claimed bias.

Senior Counsel Anthony Astaphan, who represented the St. Vincent and the Grenadines government, said “one of the grounds of bias on which (Mitchell) relied was the … summons letter issued by the commissioner and the interim report that the commissioner had sent to the Director of Public Prosecution”.

Astaphan said that the Court of Appeal agreed with the government that the summons letter “constituted no bias whatsoever but that there was an issue to be tried as to whether or not the report constituted a bias and he was sent back to the High Court for trial.”

The trial was completed in two days and the court dismissed the claim form and the application and discharged the injunction, Astaphan said.

“(This) means that the Commission of Inquiry into Ottley Hall can continue and that James Mitchell can now be summons again to participate in the Commission of Inquiry,” Astaphan added.

The marina, which was build in 1993 when Mitchell’s New Democratic Party was in office, was subsequently valued at between EC$3.5 million (US$1.29 million) and EC$7 million (US$2.59) but left the nation with a debt of EC$200 million (US$74.07 million).
Mitchell, who has sole ministerial oversight for the project has denied any wrongdoing and said last year, “my conscience is as clear as the waters flowing down the mountainside to Majorca” – a major potable water in-take in St. Vincent.

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