In English law, fair comment on a matter of public interest is allowed. Generally, it guarantees the freedom of the press to make statements on matters of public interest, as long as the statements are not made with ill-will, spite, or with intent to harm the subject of the comment. For decades, English courts have placed a higher burden on public figures to prove defamation, which includes both libel and slander. This is based on the view that if a person chooses public activity, that person must expect a higher degree of public scrutiny. For example, it is hardly likely that an English court will countenance a defamatory intent against a public figure where an allegation of conflict of interest is made on facts which are essentially true but could be capable of a more generous interpretation.
Fair comment is an ancient common law (judge made law) defence. But it was replaced in the Unites States in 1964 by a defence created in the case of New York Times v Sullivan in which the US Supreme Court decided that actual malice has to be proved to establish defamation. Since it is very difficult to prove actual malice in a journalist or a politician in the cut and thrust of journalism or politics, public life in the US has been largely liberated from the fear of defamation. While the defence of fair comment remained in the U.K. it was increasingly found to be too restrictive for adequate scrutiny of public officials. The courts of the UK have never adopted New York Times v Sullivan but began to test a more liberal approach to criticisms of public officials.
President of the United States, Donald Trump, and First Lady Melania Trump, paid an official visit to the UK on Thursday and Friday last week. The initial invitation by Prime Minister Theresa May was for a state visit, which involved pomp and ceremony. But after it became clear that Trump would be greeted with widespread public hostility, the invitation was downgraded to an official visit. Still, President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump were honoured with military parades, a lavish dinner and tea with the Queen, and greeted with widespread protests all over the UK.
One form of protest was the raising of a gigantic balloon of a baby resembling Trump, in diapers. The theory of the protestors is that normal criticism does not bother Trump and he reacts to it with abuse and insults. But ridiculing him is said to jar his gargantuan ego and is believed to be highly effective. The video of the Trump Baby Blimp can be viewed here: https://www.theguardian.com/global/video/2018/jul/13/the-moment-trump-baby-blimp-lifts-off-video
Charles Ramson (Jr) recently announced that he would seek the PPP’s nomination to be its presidential candidate for the 2020 general elections. That’s not the way it’s done, admonished General Secretary Bharrat Jagdeo. At the appropriate time the party will have a discussion on the matter and the candidate will emerge, he explained.
Ramson’s announcement was made immediately after the CCJ ruled that the two-term presidential limit did not violate Guyana’s constitution, thereby ruling out former president Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo for a third term, for which the PPP would have nominated him. Mr. Ramson clearly wanted his name to be placed among those under consideration before an anointment is made. He joins (in alphabetical order), Irfaan Ali, Frank Anthony and Anil Nandlall who have been identified by observers as being the persons from whom a ‘choice’ will be made. While no one has yet emerged as a ‘front runner,’ it could well be that one among the three has already been identified. If this is so then Ramson’s may possibly have been seen as an intruder, prematurely disrupting what might have been a carefully orchestrated selection process.
The Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo, issued an invitation to President Granger to debate race, in the context of which political party in government has done more for African Guyanese. The immediate issue was the rejection by the casting vote of the Chairman of the Elections Commission of Vishnu Persaud as Deputy Chief Elections Officer, which the Leader of the Opposition described as ‘unfair.’ The issue spawned accusations and counter accusations of racial discrimination.
The KN reported on Mr’ Jagdeo’s challenge as follows: “I am prepared to debate race relations and which party has contributed to worsening race relations in Guyana. I can talk to him (President Granger) about this fallacy and the myth that they keep perpetuating that they have done more for Afro-Guyanese than the PPP…” He stated that he is prepared to match the record of the People’s National Congress between 1964 and 1992, and then from 2015 to present as against the PPP’s 23 years in office… According to Jagdeo, the debate can be on several grounds, including employment practices, access to wealth, land and businesses… “I am sure that you will see a pattern with Afro-Guyanese having fared better in that period under the PPP than ever under the PNC rule. I am prepared to debate that openly.”
The total electoral devastation of the Democratic Labour Party(DLP) and the political exit door shown to former Prime Minister, Freundel Stuart, by the Barbados electorate at the elections last Thursday, is an apt and decisive answer to the vicious attack Stuart made on the Caribbean Court of Justice earlier in the week, when referring to the judges derogatorily as ‘politicians in robes.’ It is not unusual for politicians to be peeved by court decisions. Guyanese politicians have expressed ‘concern’ about issues relating to the CCJ on several occasions in the past, including the recent past.
In the UK, the developed country from which we inherited our laws and jurisprudence, and whose precedents are the most influential in the CCJ, judges and courts are regularly criticized, as they should be. But Stuart did not merely criticize; he unjustifiably attacked the CCJ for political bias and undertook to withdraw from the Court. Had he won the elections, Barbados’s withdrawal would have dealt a crushing blow to Caribbean unity and, worse, would have weakenedCaribbean jurisprudence and the rule of law in the region.