Patrick Simmons v Keith Claudius Mitchell
|25 November 2023
|Judgment citation (vLex)
| ECSC J0515-1
|CLAIM NO. GDAHCV2015/0458
|High Court (Grenada)
The Hon. Mr. Justice Raulston L. A. Glasgow High Court Judge
CLAIM NO. GDAHCV2015/0458
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF GRENADA
AND THE WEST INDIES ASSOCIATED STATES
HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE
Mr. Alban John with him Ms. Hazel Hopkin for the Claimant
Mr. Lawrence Maharaj SC with him Ms. Sheriba Lewis, Mrs. Amy Bullock-Jawahir, Mr. Vijaya Maharaj and Ms. Nyala Badal for the Defendant
Dr. Keith Mitchell, (“Dr. Mitchell”) and Mr. Patrick Simmons (“Mr. Simmons”) are two long-serving politicians in the State of Grenada. They are members of two different political parties. These proceedings concern whether words spoken by Dr. Mitchell at a town hall meeting were capable of bearing the meanings ascribed to them by Mr. Simmons and whether those meanings are defamatory of Mr. Simmons.
Mr. Simmons is a member of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) political party. He served as Minister with responsibility for Youth Empowerment and Sports during the period 2008–2013 when the NDC formed the Government. On 19 th February 2013, general elections were held in Grenada and the NDC lost power to the New National Party (NNP) led by Dr. Mitchell who is the political leader of the NNP. The NNP claimed all fifteen seats in that election. Dr. Mitchell then became Prime Minster of Grenada.
On or about 1 st June 2014, Dr. Mitchell, in his capacity as Prime Minister and Minister responsible for Finance (Finance Minister), attended a town hall meeting in Brooklyn, New York, United States of America hosted by Government officials. This town hall meeting was attended by members of the public, including Grenadians residing in New York. At the meeting, Dr. Mitchell was asked the following question by one attendee:
“I would like to find out what is the situation with the University, the project for the University of the West Indies in Spring Valley and secondly I would like to know…why were the people of Grenada told that the land was purchased by the NDC from the shareholders and sold to the Government?”
Dr. Mitchell, in his response to the question, stated:
“….and it is a fact sister that the land was bought by the company which had some persons who were ministers of Government in that company and it was then sold on to Government and I have a fundamental problem with this. Some people are talking corruption. I don't see how any member of my Government will go and buy a piece of land knowing that the Government wants it, buy it and then sell it to the Government. Clearly, they are not buying it for charity. They clearly was (sic) buying it as a part really of making money…”
When the attendee challenged Dr. Mitchell's utterances, Dr. Mitchell replied:
“No my dear, the facts are there. The company is there. I'm talking from Cabinet papers my dear. I'm sorry that you don't agree with me, but I'm not speaking from the top of my head. These are facts. Ask Simmons if he wasn't a member of that company as an example, just ask him. I can tell you more persons who were on it; not Peter David.”
Mr. Simmons pleads that the words uttered by Dr. Mitchell, in his address to the attendees at the meeting, were defamatory. The fact that Peter David (former Minister of Government during the 2008 to 2013 NDC administration) was excluded from individuals involved in the alleged corrupt act shows that Dr. Mitchell knew the slanderous effect of those words. Further, the fact that Dr. Mitchell specifically mentioned Mr. Simmons' name in his allegations shows that he intended to smear his good name, reputation and calling as a politician.
He goes on to say that the words uttered by Dr. Mitchell in their natural and ordinary meaning or innuendo refer to Mr. Simmons in his capacity as a Minister of Government and meant or intended to convey as fact that:
(1) Certain members of the Grenadian Government preceding his administration bought land which they knew was needed by the Government for the benefit of the State and then sold it to Government for profit.
(2) Mr. Simmons was one of the members of the company which acquired the land and sold it to the Government for profit.
(3) Mr. Simmons used his position as a Minister of Government to profit at the expense of the Government and people of Grenada.
(4) Mr. Simmons, as a Minster of Government, engaged in corrupt practices or in a corrupt transaction for profit at the expense of the Government and people of Grenada.
Mr. Simmons pleads that the responses given by Dr. Mitchell were mixed with truth and falsehoods. The particulars of truth are:
(1) A company did exist in which very old and deceased members of a past Government held shares and which owned lands at Hope, St. Andrew; and
(2) That company did sell lands to the 2008 to 2013 NDC Government. In respect of the particulars of falsehoods, Mr. Simmons pleads that the following are untrue:
(a) The insinuation that the company acquired the lands knowing that the Government needed it so as to sell it to the Government for profit.
(b) Mr. Simmons was a shareholder of that company.
(c) Mr. Simmons was engaged in corrupt practices for profit at the expense of the Government and people of Grenada; and
(d) That the allegations were facts which can be proved by reference to Cabinet documents.
Mr. Simmons claims that his character as a politician and public servant has been seriously disparaged and that he has been brought into public odium, contempt and ridicule. As a result, he seeks general, aggravated and exemplary damages for defamation of character; an injunction restraining Dr. Mitchell and his agents or servants from uttering, repeating, publishing and printing the defamatory words, interest and costs.
Dr. Mitchell states that his first response to the attendee was in respect of the purchase of the land. The purchase agreement made between Spring Valley Co-operation Limited (“Spring Valley”) and the Government of Grenada (“Government”) is evidenced by a conveyance dated 11 th April 2012 and recorded in the Deeds and Land Registry in Liber 9–2012 at page 852. The Government has not paid the purchase monies to Spring Valley. Dr. Mitchell tendered evidence that under the company's Memorandum and Articles of Association filed on 16 th March 1989, the following persons were listed as shareholders of the company:
(1) Joachim St. John, La Fortune, St. Patrick
(2) Lennox & Denise Perrotte, Rivulet Lane, Grenville, St. Andrew
(3) Pauline Andrew, Grenville, St. Andrew
(4) Carlyle John, Mt. Craven, St. Patrick
(5) Michael Lett, Petite Esperance, St. David
(6) Althema St. John, La Fortune, St. Patrick
(7) Ben Jones, Moyah, St. Andrew
In respect of the shareholders, Pauline Andrew served as a minister of Government during a NDC led administration previous to the 2008 to 2013 NDC government. Carlyle John served as a public servant. Ben Jones served as a former Prime Minister of Grenada and Michael Lett served as a minister of Government during the 2008–2013 NDC led administration.
Mr. Simmons also served as a minister of Government during the 2008–2013 NDC led administration. Dr. Mitchell pleads that he was informed that Mr. Simmons made inquiries soon after the 2013 elections about the status of payment of the purchase monies to the company. Further, Dr. Mitchell states that Mr. Simmons was closely associated with Pauline Andrew, who was Mr. Simmons' friend and a key member management team during his political campaign. Ms. Andrew had previously held the constituency seat that was later won by Mr. Simmons.
As to the words referred to in paragraph 5 above, Dr. Mitchell claims that they were based on reports and Cabinet decisions gleaned from Cabinet documents dated 2010–2012. Mr. Simmons served as a member of the Cabinet of Ministers (“Cabinet”) during the period when the land was purchased from Spring Valley. Further, as it relates to the words “not Peter David”, Dr. Mitchell explains that he mentioned Mr. David's name as he was sitting with him at the head table at the time of the town hall meeting. Dr. Mitchell says that the words “not Peter David” were spoken spontaneously and were met with a chorus of laughter from the audience.
In respect of the alleged defamatory words spoken, Dr. Mitchell denies that the words bore or were capable of the meanings alleged or any defamatory meaning. Additionally, he denies that the words spoken were intended to denigrate Mr. Simmons in any office, calling, profession or occupation.
Dr. Mitchell relies on the defence of qualified privilege. In summary, the particulars of the pleaded qualified privilege are:
(1) Dr. Mitchell was at all material times the Prime Minister of Grenada and Minister for Finance and National Security and as such, a public official speaking in his official capacity.
(2) The words were spoken at a town hall meeting hosted by officials of Government on matters of the state and public interest to Grenadians living in New York.
(3) The words as alleged contained a fair and accurate report gleaned from Cabinet documents.
(4) The words complained of were published on a matter of public concern and Dr Mitchell, as Prime Minister, was under a moral, social, legal and public duty to publish the words spoken.
In the alternative, Dr. Mitchell relies on the defence of fair comment. In summary, Dr. Mitchell presents the following facts, among other things, in support of his defence of fair comment:
(1) Cabinet papers dated 2010–2012 revealed that the previous NDC administration considered two properties to accommodate the University of the West Indies Open Campus Grenada. The land in issue was surveyed by Lett and Partners in August and September 2010. Mr. Michael Lett was closely connected to the...
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