PEP’s Phillip Alexander loses appeal in Udecott defamation lawsuit

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

PEP political leader Phillip Edward Alexander. File photo –

THE PROGRESSIVE Empowerment Party’s Phillip Edwards Alexander will have to fork out more money for his unsuccessful appeal of a judge’s refusal to step aside from hearing a defamation claim against him.

Alexander had appealed the March 3 ruling of Justice Avason Quinlan-Williams, dismissing his recusal application, and ordering him to pay $137,038.75 in costs to the Urban Development Corporation (Udecott) for the failed application.

He also sought to have Udecott’s defamation claim against him struck out, but the judge dismissed this too.

At a previous appeal, the court ordered that a preliminary issue, to determine whether Udecott was a public body capable of suing a citizen for defamation, should be sent back to the judge for determination. In that ruling, the Appeal Court also left the issue of the quantum of costs to be decided by Quinlan-Williams, who ordered Alexander to pay $137,038.75. She also dismissed his recusal application.

At the appeal, it was argued that the judge, by making the cost order, pre-determined the preliminary issue. She was also accused of apparent bias.

Udecott’s lead attorney, Deborah Peake, SC, argued that the appeal was misconceived and frivolous and caused the hearing of the preliminary issue to be pushed back, as it was set for hearing last month.

On Monday, the Appeal Court dismissed Alexander’s appeal, saying it could not draw the conclusion of apparent bias, nor had Quinlan-Williams pre-determined the preliminary issue when she gave a figure for the cost order.

In an oral decision, Justices Vasheist Kokaram and Malcolm Holdip said ill-founded recusal applications should be discouraged as they can scandalise the administration of justice.

Kokaram said judges, in deciding if to step aside, must embark on a self-checking exercise to ensure that justice is done.

“The task of a judge is not to win a popularity contest,” he said, as he spoke of the role of attorneys in advising their clients.

In Alexander’s case, Kokaram, who delivered the ruling, said the judge did not pre-determine the preliminary issue of Udecott’s status. He also pointed out there was no appeal against the judge’s cost order and that Alexander’s attorneys were given a full hearing on Udecott’s presentation of their bill for costs.

“The underlying complaint is not that the judge was biased, but the court should not have made a cost order against him.”

Kokaram said “ill-founded challenges to the bench” should not be entertained. He also said the issue of costs was an important feature in civil litigation, but had nothing to do with liability, since there are various stages of such processes which can incur cost orders.

Alexander was represented by attorneys Matthew Gayle and Jason Jones.

Udecott has alleged Alexander defamed the company in a video posted on the PEP’s social media accounts in January 2020, during which the cost of the refurbishment of President’s House was discussed.

Udecott said the allegations made in the video were egregious, wholly unjustified and malicious and brought the company and its employees into public ridicule, scandal, odium, contempt and disrepute.

Also representing Udecott is attorney Ravi Heffes-Doon.