A Penal businessman, who sued a soldier for defamation after he (the soldier) alleged that he threw a pig’s head in his yard in a report to police, has lost his case before it even went to trial.
Delivering an oral decision on Thursday, High Court Judge Frank Seepersad upheld an application from Jaipersad Beharry to strike out the case against him brought by Russell Bhikarrie.
In his court filings, obtained by Guardian Media, Bhilkarrie, who operates a security company, claimed that he had a heated argument with Beharry late last year.
Bhilkarrie claimed that in April, he was contacted by an officer assigned to the Penal Police Station, who informed him that Beharry had made a report about the animal head being allegedly thrown into his yard.
Bhilkarrie denied any wrongdoing and claimed that Beharry fabricated the allegation.
Despite not being charged over the report, Bhilkarrie filed the lawsuit alleging that his reputation was damaged.
In his defence, Beharry claimed that he and Bhilkarrie had a cordial relationship as Bhilkarrie’s sister was married to his first cousin and lived a short distance away.
He claimed that the relationship deteriorated after Bhilkarrie allegedly asked him to borrow his T&T Defence Force uniform to pose in photographs for social media and he refused.
Beharry also denied making a false report to the police as he claimed that the incident with the pig head occurred after several verbal altercations between them.
In determining the application to strike out the case, Seepersad had to decide whether Bhilkarrie could pursue a defamation lawsuit over the report or if (the report) was covered by the defence of absolute privilege.
Seepersad had to consider Commonwealth legal precedents as the issue never arose in locally reported cases.
He ruled that it was covered by the defence as he noted that citizens should be confident that they would not face collateral proceedings after making reports to the police.
Seepersad said, “In a society such as ours where crime is on an upsurge it is imperative citizens feel empowered and free to make reports to police. The mantra “if you see something say something” should be adopted by all citizens.”
“The police very often rely on the cooperation of citizens to unearth information and ought not to be fettered by statements being the subject of a defamatory suit,” he added.
He also pointed out that Bhilkarrie could have been charged with wasting police time if the officer, who received the report, obtained evidence of the allegations being fabricated as claimed.
“There is sufficient protection built in the criminal justice system,” he said.
As part of his decision in the case, Justice Seepersad ordered Bhilkarrie to pay Beharry $6,300 in legal costs for defending the short-lived lawsuit.
Bhilkarrie was represented by Jeevan Rampersad, while Wendy Ramnath-Panday represented Beharry.