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Independent Liberal Party (ILP) leader Jack Warner has admitted to defaming expelled party member and Chaguanas councillor Faaiq Mohammed. During a hearing of Mohammed’s lawsuit in the Port-of-Spain High Court yesterday, Warner’s attorney, Om Lalla, said his client wished to accept liability in the case to save judicial time and to give Warner an opportunity to focus on his other ongoing litigation matters. Lalla said: “Having received advice and witnessing the proceedings, my client has taken the position to accept liability.”
He said he had already begun discussions with Mohammed’s lawyers in an attempt to agree on the compensation Warner would have to pay, as well as the terms of an apology and corresponding retraction. Warner’s decision comes just under three weeks before the case was due to go on trial before Justice Vasheist Kokaram and two days after the last hearing, when both sets of attorneys made applications for irrelevant and baseless hearsay information to be struck from both sides’ witness statements.
As Kokaram was set to deliver his oral ruling, Lalla reported Warner’s change in position and suggested that the ruling would now be academic and unnecessary. “I am quite confident that regardless of what the decision is, that there is still a defendable case,” Lalla said. Mohammed’s attorney Avory Sinanan, SC, disagreed, saying Kokaram’s decision was required to develop case law related to defamation and libel.
He also said the ruling would also assist if the two parties could not arrive at an agreement, in which case Kokaram would be required to assess the damages to which Mohammed is entitled. Kokaram eventually agreed with Sinanan and gave his ruling, in which he removed parts of the witness statements which were deemed to be opinion and unsupported by evidence.
As part of his ruling, Kokaram commended both parties for their diligence in keeping deadlines in the case as well as for abiding by an initial agreement in which Warner had promised to not repeat his statements. Mohammed, a 25-year-old student at the University of the West Indies (UWI), initiated the lawsuit after he voted for a United National Congress 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. Before agreeing to settle the matter, Warner was relying on the three-pronged defence of fair comment, justification and qualified privilege. Among the witnesses Warner cited to defend against the claim was television host and businessman Inshan Ismael.
The parties have until June 9 to come to an agreement on the settlement. If unsuccessful they will return before Kokaram on July 1.