Legal wrangling between political parties heightens
A LEGAL firestorm, which was first ignited by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller who threatened a lawsuit against Leader of the Opposition Andrew Holness for alleged defamatory comments he made about her, appears to be spreading with intensity as attorney-at-law George Soutar, who is representing Holness, has taken aim at Peter Phillips, demanding a retraction of "defamatory" statements against his client.
Soutar has also written to law firm Knight, Junor and Samuels, dismissing claims by Bert Samuels, the attorney representing Simpson Miller, that his client has defamed the prime minister.
In a letter to Phillips, dated February 16, Soutar said that statements about his client, which the People's National Party caused to be published, were defamatory to his client. Soutar charged that the entire statement was defamatory but made particular reference to comments about the construction of Holness' house. According to the attorney, "These statements sought to suggest or impute that Mr Holness purchased land and is carrying out construction thereon using funds that were obtained dishonestly, illicitly, illegally, and corruptly."
He emphasised that the statements would tend to have the effect of lowering Mr Holness' character in the eyes of well-thinking people. Soutar said that the damage had been made worse because Phillips repeated the statements in a press conference and they were repeated subsequently in the newspapers.
Phillips has been given three days from receipt of the letter to publish a "suitably worded apology, giving it prominence equal to that of the defamatory statements, to be approved by my client".
Soutar has also demanded that Phillips pay an agreed sum to a children's charity chosen by Holness. The attorney said that in the absence of a positive response from Phillips, he has been given instructions to file action against the PNP's campaign director, seeking damages.
Turning to the claim from the prime minister, Soutar said that the call for an apology and damages is rejected "as baseless and without foundation". He said that it was the prime minister who by "plain words and innuendo" suggested that Holness was a con man, seeking to deceive the people of Jamaica, and is dishonest and a "trickster".
"These baseless statements made by the prime minister sought to demean Mr Holness and to destroy his reputation.
"The prime minister, having made the defamatory statements set out above, you, no doubt, will agree that Mr Holness is entitled to vigorously defend himself."
However, Samuels said that Holness' response through his lawyer seeks to rely on justification for the comment.
"However, in all my years of learning in the area of defamation, a statement made in retaliation is not capable of use as a defence," Samuels said.
"The opposition leader's reference to the statement made earlier by the prime minister as an excuse for his alleged defamatory utterances is unfounded in law," he insisted.