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$325,000 awarded to Dr Francis Alexis – Part II

Dr Francis Alexis, KC – was awarded $325,000.00

Grenada’s foremost constitutional expert Dr. Francis Alexis is now feeling a sense of vindication.

A court has awarded Dr. Alexis EC$350,000.00 in a case of libel that he brought against Cabral Douglas, a fellow attorney-at-law from Dominica who is believed to be now living in Australia.

The Alexis-Douglas court battle started after the Dominican lawyer made certain allegations of wrongdoing on the part of the Grenadian legal expert over funding received for a book allegedly from former Chief Justice Sir Dennis Byron.

Dr Alexis took offence to the allegation and decided to institute legal proceedings through his local attorney, Ruggles Ferguson, KC and obtained a judgment in his favour.

As a public service, THE NEW TODAY has decided to reproduce the ruling of the court on the matter:-

[37] In his affidavit filed on 10th November 2017 in support of an application for an interim injunction, the Claimant stated that he saw the Defendant’s Official Police Complaint (Offending Publication 1) and Press Release containing the defamatory words and allegations (Offending Publication 2) displayed on the internet site, Grenada Broadcast from 26th October 2017 and continuing. The Claimant stated that Grenada Broadcast is a leading internet site, which is visited, that is, watched or listened to daily, very widely, in Grenada and internationally.

[38] The Claimant stated that ever since the documents of the Defendant appeared on the internet, he has been inundated with telephone calls, email messages and WhatsApp messages. He stated that some have come from inside Grenada, others have come from across the Caribbean and that they have come from numerous people expressing deep disappointment that his reputation is being damaged by the said allegations.

[39] Although he pleaded that the defamatory statements were reported by the Caribbean News Network, the Claimant has not evidenced this allegation.

[40] In summary, the evidence before the Court is that the defamatory statements made by the Defendant were published to the police force of multiple countries and to an unknown number of media houses, staff and members of the judiciary and was reported on the internet on the Grenada Broadcast website which can be accessed globally. The Defendant specially caused the offending publications to be published and reported by the news media. It is evident therefore that the Offending Publications were published widely and not in a limited form and therefore had the potential to cause greater damage to the Claimant.

Reputation of the Claimant
[41] The qualifications, experience and general reputation of the Claimant are evidenced in his witness statement and the various affidavits incorporated into it.

[42] The Claimant is a husband, father, and grandfather. He holds a Bachelor of Laws degree (LLB) and a Master of Laws degree (LLM) from the University of the West Indies (“UWI”), Cave Hill Campus, Barbados and obtained a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Law from the University of Cambridge, England. The Claimant also attended the Hugh Wooding Law School in Trinidad and Tobago and obtained a Legal Education Certificate from the Caribbean Council of Legal Education.

[43] The Claimant is a practicing attorney-at-law. He was admitted to practice as a Barrister-at-law in Grenada on 10th December 1980. He has therefore been practicing law for over 40 years. On 7th August 2008 he was appointed as one of Her Majesty’s Counsel in the Eastern Caribbean. He has appeared before the High Court in multiple Member States and Territories of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court as well as the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

[44] The Claimant served as Assistant Lecturer in Law in the Faculty of Law, UWI, Cave Hill Campus, Barbados from 1973 to 1975, Lecturer in Law in the Faculty of Law, UWI, St. Augustine Campus, Trinidad and Tobago from 1975 to1977 and a Senior Lecturer in Law in the Faculty of Law, UWI, Cave Hill Campus from 1980 to 1983. He was the Course Director of the Master of Laws (LLM) Advanced Constitutional Law Course and the Course Director of the LLM Advanced Administrative Law Course both put on by the Faculty of Law, UWI, Cave Hill Campus.

[45] The Claimant served in the Government of Grenada at various periods between 1980 and 1995 including as Attorney General and Acting Prime Minister. He was an elected representative in the House of Parliament of Grenada was 15 years from 1984 to 1999.

[46] The Claimant has served as Legal Adviser to several Governments, on Constitution Reform and on Public Law generally, including the Governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Grenada, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago. He also served as legal advisor to bodies of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).

[47] The Claimant was Chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee which wrote the draft 2009 Constitution of St. Vincent and the Grenadines which was submitted to the Referendum there on 25th September 2009; but was not approved at the Referendum. He was also Chairman of the Grenada Constitution Reform Advisory Committee which conducted public education exercises on the Constitution of Grenada for purposes of the Referendum on Constitution Reform which was held on 24th November 2016 but the Constitution Reform Bills which were submitted to that Referendum were not approved at the Referendum. He also served on Commissions on other unrelated matters in Saint Lucia and Bermuda.

[48] The Claimant has also authored multiple books including “Changing Caribbean Constitutions”.

[49] When the alleged defamatory words about the Claimant were published by the Defendant, the Claimant was Deputy Chairman of the RJLSC of the CCJ headquartered in Trinidad and Tobago.

[50] It is quite evident that the Claimant has had a long and successful career as an academic, author, politician, legal advisor and legal practitioner. He has reached the pinnacle of each of his chosen paths. Based on the evidence of the Claimant, I agree with the submission of learned King’s Counsel for the Claimant that the Claimant is a scholar of international repute and has enjoyed an unblemished, distinguished career.

Conduct of the Defendant
[51] The Defendant’s conduct will largely feature when considering whether there are mitigating factors which would temper the award of damages to the Claimant or aggravating features justifying a higher award to the Claimant or whether the Defendant’s conduct rises to the level warranting an award of exemplary damages. In this context, the court is considering whether such conduct may lessen or cause additional injury to the Claimant’s feelings.

[52] Learned King’s Counsel for the Claimant submitted that the Defendant’s conduct has been reprehensible, not just as a one-off, but consistently so. He submitted that pre-action protocol letters, the institution of the claim in November 2017, and the injunction issued by the Court restraining him from repeating the Offending Publications, had no effect on the Defendant, who pursued and persisted with his defamatory and inflammatory agenda.

[53] Learned King’s Counsel pointed out that up to November 2022, the Defendant was publishing the offending words without restraint, without care, and reckless as to their adverse and damaging consequences to the Claimant or any other person. Learned King’s Counsel submitted that the Defendant seemed unstoppable even in the face of the Court injunction.

[54] In his witness statement, the Claimant stated that from publication of the defamatory statements in 2017 until judgment in July 2023, the Defendant did not apologise for the offending publications. He stated that quite to the contrary, the Defendant entrenched his allegations, republished the damaging libel, and intentionally and maliciously sought to damage his reputation.

[55] The Claimant’s evidence is that his lawyers wrote to the Defendant by letter dated 27th October 2017 requesting that he withdraw, apologise and make amends for the defamatory allegations made by the Defendant. However, instead of recanting his allegations the Defendant made additional allegations. At paragraph 17 of his statement of claim, which the Claimant incorporated into his witness statement, he stated that the Defendant repeated the libelous allegations in a letter dated 30th October 2017 and published it on the Grenada Broadcast Website in response to his pre-action protocol letter to the Defendant of 27th October 2017.

[56] The Claimant further stated that in his 30th October 2017 response letter, the Defendant expressly refused to apologise and retract his offending publications, instead he contended that they were ‘factual…well documented and substantiated…supported by the Claimant’s own publication, Changing Caribbean Constitutions, second edition 2015…and in the public interest.’

[57] The Claimant’s lawyer again wrote to the Defendant by letters dated 31st October and 2nd November 2017 and the Defendant responded to those letters with similar allegations against the Claimant as his first response.

Related:  $325,000 awarded to Dr Francis Alexis

[58] In his supplemental affidavit filed on 20th November 2017 in support of his application for an interlocutory injunction, the Claimant stated that repetition of the defamatory statements about him were made in a 14th November 2017 email which was written to ‘Media Members’ by the Defendant widely circulated to the Caribbean media, including daily newspapers in Jamaica and Trinidad, and to Judges, Registrars and other officials of Caribbean Courts.

[59] In his affidavit filed in support of a committal application, the Claimant stated that in an article published via the internet on Antigua News on 9th November 2022 the Defendant was quoted as calling on the Commissioner of Police in Saint Lucia to issue warrants for the arrest of the Claimant under relevant offences of bribery. In a further article dated 9th November 2022, the Defendant made further defamatory statements about the Claimant.

[60] By order dated 17th January 2018, the court granted the Claimant’s application for an interim injunction. The Court ordered as follows:

“The Respondent/Defendant be and is hereby restrained whether by himself, his servants or agents or otherwise howsoever from printing or publishing or causing to be printed or published or in any way repeating the offending words as identified in the Statement of Claim filed herein (being Offending Publication 1, Offending Publication2 and Offending Publication 3) or any similar words defamatory of the Applicant/Claimant pending the trial and determination of this matter or until further order.”

[61] In his witness statement in support of the assessment, the Claimant highlights that the Defendant has been in breach of the interim injunction and as previously mentioned, the Defendant continued the publication of the offending words as late as 9th November 2022.

[62] What the above demonstrates is that the Defendant has embarked upon a course of conduct whereby he has doubled down and repeated his defamatory allegations about the Claimant despite pre-action letters, the institution of legal proceedings, and a court order restraining him from continuing to publish the defamatory words. The Defendant has demonstrated a blatant disregard for his actions, their effect on the Claimant’s reputation and feelings and any legal consequences.

The Effect of the Publication
[63] The Claimant’s evidence as to the effect of the publication can be gleaned from his witness statement and the various affidavits incorporated into his witness statement.

[64] The Claimant ‘s evidence is that after the Defendant published the libelous words, he (the Claimant) was called on the telephone by various media persons to respond to the said words. He stated that some of these media persons were based in Grenada, some in Trinidad and Tobago and some in Barbados. He stated that he had to deny the allegations to the various media persons who called and when asked why the Defendant would make such statements, he would reply that he had no idea.

[65] The Claimant’s further evidence is that when the libelous words were published by the Defendant, he was Deputy Chairman of the RJLSC and in order to perform his duties as Deputy Chairman, he had to travel from Grenada to Trinidad and Tobago by air every two months or so.

[66] In his witness statement, the Claimant explained the deep concern and apparent anxiety he felt over the possibility of being arrested in Trinidad and Tobago as called for by the Defendant, when he had to travel there from Grenada in December 2017 to perform his duties as Deputy Chairman of the RJLSC. The Claimant stated however that fortunately, he returned to Grenada without being arrested in Trinidad and Tobago.

[67] The Claimant further indicated that whilst he was in Trinidad and Tobago he had to interact with members of the judiciaries from various Caribbean countries, lawyers from across the Caribbean, other members of the RJLSC, and other persons. He stated that several of those persons expressed concerns to him about the said words published by the Defendant about him, and that he had to assure them that he would be taking action in court to vindicate his good name and probity.

[68] The Claimant’s further evidence was that ever since the offending publications by the Defendant appeared on the internet, he has been inundated with telephone calls, email messages and WhatsApp messages. He stated that some of these communications have come from inside Grenada and others have come from numerous persons expressing deep disappointment that his reputation is being damaged by the said allegations.

[69] In summary the Claimant stated that the allegations made by the Defendant were extremely damaging to his reputation relating to his practice of law, his teaching of law, his writing on law and his service on entities in capacities in which his knowledge of law is relied on. He further stated that the said allegations were calculated to damage his reputation.

[70] The words used by the Defendant clearly disparaged the Claimant in his professional life. In a defamation action for libel, the law presumes that damage has been caused to a person’s reputation and a claimant will be awarded damages.11 However, an award of compensatory damages is in part meant to vindicate a Claimant for damage to his reputation. The court therefore has to consider the extent of the damage to the Claimant’s reputation.

[71] Learned King’s Counsel for the Claimant submitted that the offending publications have placed a serious blemish on the reputation of the Claimant. He submitted that it raised several issues among members of the public, touching and concerning the Claimant’s honesty and integrity. In publishing the offensive words, the learned King’s Counsel submitted that the Defendant has sought to elevate himself and his influence by promoting the fact that he is the son of a former Dominican Prime Minister and that he is a legal practitioner in Australia. He submitted that the offending publications are permanently housed on the World Wide Web, accessible not just over the last six years but will be accessible for many years to come. He argued that defamation on the Web cannot be recalled or retracted, and that the Defamation is available for viewing as long as the World Wide Web exists.

[72] #The Court notes that the Claimant did not file witness statements by any other person and it is only the Claimant’s own evidence that is before the court. Whilst the Claimant’s evidence shows that persons expressed concern to him about the potential damage to his reputation by the Defendant’s statements there was no evidence as to the extent of the damage to his reputation. However, it must be kept in mind that the law will presume damage to the Claimant’s reputation for libel.

[73] In Jenny Lindsay v Harriett Carty, Baptiste JA noted the following:

“[10] An award of damages in defamation is required to serve one or more, and usually all, of three interlocking purposes of compensation: damage to reputation; vindication of good name; and the taking account of the distress, hurt and humiliation caused by the defamatory publication:

“These distinct features apply to every defamation case, but the emphasis to be placed on each will vary from case to case. Sometimes, for example, there may be very little demonstrable damage to reputation, but serious emotional distress; on other occasions, the need for public vindication will predominate; in yet other cases the financial consequences of damage to the reputation of the individual may represent the most serious feature.”5 (See Lord Neuberger in Cairns and Modi; KC v MGN Limited [2012] EWCA Civ 1382, at paragraph 22).

[74] Baptiste JA went on to cite passages from the English decision in Sir Kevin Barron MP v Vines where Warby J explained that the existence and scale of any harm to reputation may be established by evidence or it may be inferred and that the impact on a person’s reputation can be affected by various factors including the extent to which the publisher of the defamatory statements is authoritative or credible i.e. whether they may be well placed to know the facts or whether they appear to be an unreliable source; whether the defamatory words were published to friends or colleagues which may be more harmful or hurtful; and the propensity for defamatory statements to percolate freely, especially on the internet.

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