Phillip Alexander wins defamation appeal

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Progressive Empowerment Party Political Leader Phillip Alexander, address the media and members at his Park Street, Port of Spain office on Monday – Photo by Angelo Marcelle

PHILLIP Edward Alexander has emerged successful in appealing a judge’s order that he pay businessman Andrew Gabriel $0.7 million for defamation.

On Thursday, Justices of Appeal Peter Rajkumar, Ronnie Boodoosingh and Maria Wilson set aside the orders of Justice Carol Gobin and ordered him to pay Gabriel only $10,000.

In May 2019, Alexander was ordered to pay $525,000 in compensatory damages for hurt feelings and loss of reputation and a separate award of $250,000 in aggravated damages over statements the former PEP leader made on a radio programme and his Facebook page in February and April 2017.

In their ruling, the three judges said the first statement was not defamatory of Gabriel, and while the second statement did bear a defamatory meaning “in their proper context, the ordinary reasonable reader would not have construed (the words) to have referred to his family.”

Rajkumar, who wrote the decision, said none of the other Facebook posts were defamatory, so the judge’s award of damages could not be justified.

“If they were being considered by reference to whether they justified an uplift in the quantum of damages, they needed to be analysed as to whether they all actually bore meanings defamatory of the respondent.

“None of those subsequent posts, however, was defamatory of the respondent.”

Rajkumar said the judge’s award was “based on a misapprehension” that all the publications were defamatory and the others referred to Gabriel’s family.

He said Gobin “erroneously” took into account Gabriel’s hurt feelings on the basis of the his belief that the first and the other statements targeted him and his family, and were defamatory, when they did not.

Rajkumar also said the award was “outside the reasonable range for defamation of this nature.

“An award of such magnitude could only serve to have a chilling effect on the constitutional rights to freedom of expression and freedom and the right to express political views.

“For all the reasons above the award could not be justified and neither could any further award of exemplary damages.”

On November 12, Alexander announced he was leaving public life and resigning as leader of the Progressive Empowerment Party (PEP). He later said the lawsuits against him led him to bow out of politics.

His decision came on the heels of a court order for him to pay $850,000 to Patriotic Front leader Mickela Panday for defamation preceding the 2020 general election and an earlier order, in October, to pay Finance Minister Colm Imbert $525,000 for false allegations against Imbert in 2020.

Contacted on Thursday, Alexander said he “willl be putting out a statement on all of it in due course.”

At the appeal, Alexander was represented by attorneys Gregory Armorer and Anuradha Dean. Douglas Mendes, SC, and Clay Hackett represented Gabriel.