In a defamation action brought in May 2014 in the High Court of Dominica, and bearing suit number DOMHCV 2014/0214, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit and members of his Cabinet (“the Claimants”) sought damages against Opposition Leader Lennox Linton and the owner of a radio station broadcasting as Q95 (‘the Defendants”) for allegedly publishing certain defamatory words uttered by the opposition leader at a youth rally and broadcast via radio and the internet.
In their Defence, the Defendants pleaded justification, fair comment and qualified privileged – three of the available defences to defamation.
Contending that the Defendants did not disclose any proper, viable or sustainable defences of justification, fair comment or qualified privilege, the Claimants applied to the court to strike out the defence. The Claimants made that application after both sides had filed Witness Statements (the evidence that each witness intended to give at trial) and disclosed the documents they intended to use at trial.
On April 27th, 2017 Justice Bernie Stephenson Brooks ruled in favour of the Claimants, striking out the Defence on basis that the Defendants had no prospect of success at trial. She ordered that the matter proceed to assessment of damages.
Judge facing cowardly attacks
Since delivering her Judgment, Justice Stephenson Brooks has been facing well-orchestrated cowardly attacks and threats from faceless, nameless individuals within Dominica and on social media. Those individuals made clear their dissatisfaction with her judgment and have circulated a poster on social media referring to her in derogatory terms and accusing her of bias. She has been the target of threats via telephone and otherwise.
The OECS Bar forcefully condemns the cowardly attacks on Justice Brooks and the Judiciary and calls upon those responsible to desist forthwith. We call upon the authorities in Dominica to ensure that adequate measures are in place for her safety and security. We further call upon them to vigorously investigate the source of the attacks with a view to taking appropriate action.
Availability of Avenues to Appeal
By the very adversarial nature of our legal system, a winner and a loser emerge in most court actions. One party is usually left dissatisfied. But the very system provides the dissatisfied party with avenues of appeal: to the Court of Appeal and thereafter to the highest court, whether it be the United Kingdom-based Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) or the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). In the case of Dominica, in March 2015 the CCJ replaced the JCPC as the highest court.
Moreover, if there is dissatisfaction with a Judge, the system provides for complaints to be channeled to the Chief Justice and the Judicial & Legal Services Commission (JLSC). The answer does not lie in personal attacks against or threats directed to the Judge.
Protecting independence of the Judiciary
Twenty-eight years ago, in 1989, the OECS Bar Association was formed out of the dire need then to improve the terms and conditions of service for the members of the Judiciary. We became the voice of the Judges who were unable to speak for themselves and agitate on behalf of themselves. Since then, we have been advancing, protecting and promoting the independence of the judiciary and defending it from unwarranted attacks.
Today, in discharge of our continuing duty, we rise in defence of Justice Brooks and the Judiciary. We urge Justice Brooks to stand resolute in the face of the attacks and to ensure that justice is dispensed in Dominica, fearlessly and dispassionately, in accordance with the principles of law and in keeping with the solemn oath of judicial office.
Date: May 5th, 2017