There has, so far, never been an online defamation case in T&T. But there could be a first, says Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard SC, a victim of the offence. There are several libellous postings on a Facebook page criticising Gaspard for clearing former prime minister Patrick Manning and his one-time spiritual adviser Juliana Pena of any "criminal misconduct" in the construction of a multi-million dollar church–the Lighthouse of Our Lord Jesus Christ–in the Heights of Guanapo, off Arima.
The general call on the Facebook page is that Gaspard must go. It is being charged that politics was behind the freeing of Manning and Pena. Contacted for a comment yesterday, Gaspard said he has not seen the comments because he does not look at bloggers. He noted, however, that his understanding is that online defamation is "actionable". Promising he will look at the comments, Gaspard said: "There has been no online defamation case locally.
But there could be a first. "I was discussing the subject with other people and will be advised accordingly." Attorney David West said he had a case recently in which one of the parties contended that blogs against him were defamatory. "We settled but the blogs increased the cost of the damages," West said. He said there have been cases in the UK involving online defamation.
Under common law, someone in T&T can be sued for online defamation, he added. "It's even worse defaming someone online because it is read by a much wider audience." Keith Scotland, another attorney, said the online phenomenon is new and the area of defamation remains unsettled. The DPP is entitled to protect his good name, though, and if the criteria is met for a defamatory suit, he is certain Gaspard will be advised on what action he could take, he said. "I am sure he will take the appropriate legal advice and act accordingly.
I see no reason why he can't sue. He will know who he has to contend with," Scotland noted, referring to those whose names appear on the postings. Gaspard, in a recent seven-page press release, made the disclosure that no criminal misconduct has been found against Manning and Pena. He said if any new evidence is brought to his attention, he will revisit the matter.