Cummings defamation claims against UNC senator move closer to trial

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Minister of Youth Development and National Service Foster Cummings. – File photo by Angelo Marcelle

EVEN as Youth Development and National Service Minister Foster Cummings intends to file a lawsuit against the State over a “leaked” Special Branch report that alleged criminal conduct on his part, his complaints against a UNC senator are one step closer to trial.

Cummings’ claim against UNC Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial-Ramdial and a local media house detailing the Special Branch report and a separate lawsuit against Lutchmedial for publishing his confidential financial information, both in 2022, came up for a pre-trial review before Justice Nadia Kangaloo on June 12.

The judge is presiding over the two separate claims and will rule on evidential objections and striking out applications related to the cases on August 9.

At that time, Kangaloo will also fix dates for the hearing of the two matters – which will not be consolidated, since none of the parties were amenable to the option – likely in May or June 2025.

Cummings first filed a defamation lawsuit maintaining Lutchmedial defamed his name when, on May 5, 2022, at a UNC public meeting, she revealed the contents of a Special Branch report, which she said she received in her mailbox from a whistleblower.

The Express republished the unedited contents of the police report after Lutchmedial disclosed it at the meeting.

She subsequently posted a statement on her Facebook account about the allegations, calling for the police to thoroughly investigate them.

Cummings contended the report was “private and confidential” and should not have been revealed to the public.

On May 16, 2022, at another UNC public meeting, Lutchmedial presented several documents, including a source-of-funds declaration form, two letters of award and a cheque, which all referenced Cummings, which she again posted on her Facebook page.

He subsequently sought an injunction to restrain Lutchmedial from reposting corruption allegations against him on her social media accounts.

On June 10, 2022, Kangaloo dismissed his injunction application, ruling that the information Cummings sought to classify as confidential could be in the public domain, as he is a politically exposed person.

His lawyers then filed an initial procedural appeal complaining why they felt Kangaloo got it wrong, but later withdrew the appeal and the matter proceeded to the case-management stage before the judge, until she ruled he could not advance his reply in the way he proposed.

In February, the Appeal Court allowed Cummings to reply to Lutchmedial’s defence by introducing evidence to rebut some of her contentions.

UNC Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial-Ramdial. – File photo

At a media briefing on June 8, the minister’s legal team, led by Senior Counsel Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj and Ronnie Bissessar, signalled his intention to file a claim against the State over the leak of the Special Branch report.

Maharaj admitted the minister was hesitant to take legal action against the Police Commissioner (CoP) or the State “unless it was absolutely necessary.” However, he said Cummings was anxious to have the error of the leak of the police report to the senator “corrected so the damage done to his character and reputation could be minimised.”

He said his team wrote repeatedly to the CoP to “correct the false personal information” in the Special Branch report, but there had been no response except for a request for an extension of time to respond.

With time against him to file a judicial-review claim against the CoP, Maharaj said Cummings was advised to file a constitutional claim for a breach of his right to privacy against the State. A pre-action protocol letter was sent to the Attorney General in October 2023, but Maharaj said the Attorney General told them the State could not be held liable for the disclosure of Special Branch report unless Cummings provided the names of officers who allegedly leaked the document to the senator, and the disclosure was unauthorised.

“The minister is adamant to vindicate his character and reputation,” Maharaj said, adding that any damages awarded to Cummings, if successful, would be used to assist his constituents.

Cummings’s claim is expected to be filed next week.

Cummings is also represented by attorneys Rikki Harnanan, Kingsley Walesby, Varin Gopaul Gosine and Nicholas Sant.

Also representing Lutchmedial are Jared Jagroo, Kent Samlal, Vishal Siewsaran and Natasha Bisram.

The Trinidad Express is represented by Farees Hosein and Rumeal Peters.