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Butch's cases against 'Motty' alive in Supreme Court

Published:Friday | February 24, 2012 | 12:00 AM

The Court of Appeal last Friday ruled in favour of Gordon 'Butch' Stewart on an appeal brought by Stewart, Christopher Zacca and Air Jamaica Acquisition Group Ltd against Wilmot Perkins and Independent Radio Company Limited (IRC).

The net effect of the ruling was that a defamation claim earlier brought by Stewart and the others in the Supreme Court, but which had been struck out, was returned to the roster of that court.

The appeal arose from a recent ruling of Justice Paulette Williams in the Supreme Court that a 2010 claim for defamation brought by Stewart and the others against Perkins and IRC be struck out as it amounted to an abuse of process.

The claim in question had surrounded the rebroadcast, in 2005, on the programme, 'Perkins On Line', of segments of a speech made in Parliament by Andrew Gallimore. Attorneys-at-law for Perkins and IRC, Queen's Counsel Michael Hylton and Carlene Larmond had argued before Williams that the 2010 claim was an abuse of process as the matters raised in that claim had also been raised in another defamation claim bought in 2009 by the same claimants plus Sandals Resorts International against the said Perkins and IRC.

The position advanced by counsel on behalf of Perkins and IRC had found favour with the Supreme Court, resulting in an order that the second claim be struck out with leave to appeal being granted to Stewart and the other claimants.

It was this appeal, heard June 22-23, 2011, on which judgment was handed down in the Court of Appeal last Friday. The case was heard by justices Hazel Harris, Norma McIntosh and Lloyd Hibbert who formed the view that the striking out of the claimants' second claim was too drastic a step for the first instance judge to have taken. The justices felt that an order for costs as a penalty for bringing the second claim or an order to consolidate the two claims would have been more appropriate orders and, therefore, ruled in favour of Stewart and the other appellants.

Surprised at reasoning

Commenting on the ruling, Hylton said he was somewhat surprised at the reasoning of the judges, as they had in effect ruled against the claimants on all the grounds they argued before the Court of Appeal, yet decided to interfere with the exercise of the discretion of the Supreme Court judge without indicating any clear basis for doing so.

IRC Managing Director Newton James, reacting to the Court of Appeal's decision, was also shocked at the judges' ruling. He said Perkins had always felt strongly that the fundamental principle of freedom of expression of the citizens of Jamaica, which underpinned the two cases, was one he was prepared to take all the way to the Privy Council. He said he was not certain, at this stage, what his next step would be, as he would have to discuss the matter with the lawyers, and in light of the recent death of Perkins, with his widow as well, and she was now preoccupied with funeral arrangements.

Editor's note: IRC is a subsidiary of The Gleaner Company.