Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. In a judgment released yesterday, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) dismissed the application by Mr Basil Williams, the former Attorney General of Guyana, for special leave in the Guyanese case of Basil Williams v Prithima Kissoon, Guyana National Newspaper Ltd, and The Attorney General of Guyana  CCJ 3 (AJ) GY. Mr Williams was seeking to appeal the decision of the Court of Appeal of Guyana which refused to grant him leave to appeal a decision of the Full Court of the Supreme Court of Guyana, and an extension of time to lodge that appeal.
Ms Prithima Kissoon, the former Deputy Solicitor General in the Attorney General of Guyana’s Chambers, sued Mr Williams and the Guyana National Newspaper Ltd for defamation (‘the claim’). The dispute arose because Mr Williams while holding the office of Attorney General, was dissatisfied with the manner in which Ms Kissoon handled certain political cases involving the then Opposition. Mr Williams ordered her off all political cases after the appeal in Attorney General v Bharrat Jagdeo, which was under Ms Kissoon’s care and control, was dismissed. According to Ms Kissoon, Mr Williams abused and vilified her in the press.
Ms Kissoon sued Mr Williams in his personal capacity for defamation and he applied to strike his name from the claim arguing that the Attorney General of Guyana ought to be sued instead. The High Court of Guyana dismissed Mr Williams’ application but gave leave to Ms Kissoon to join the Attorney General to the claim, which she did. Upon an application by the Attorney General, the High Court subsequently struck Mr Williams from the claim.
Ms Kissoon applied to the Full Court to review the decision to strike Mr Williams from the claim. This application was heard by a judicial panel of the Full Court, of which Ms Kissoon’s brother-in-law was a member. The Full Court restored Mr Williams as a party to the claim. The decision was delivered via email on 31 March 2021, but Mr Williams states that he only learnt of the decision on 13 April 2021, because an incorrect email address was used while attempting to dispatch it to him.
On 28 April 2021, Mr Williams filed an application for leave to appeal the decision of the Full Court to a judge in chambers in the Court of Appeal. This application was outside of the required fourteen-day time period, so he also filed an application to extend the time to lodge that appeal. The judge in chambers dismissed Mr Williams’ application on the ground of lack of jurisdiction. Mr Williams then applied to a full Panel of the Court of Appeal to review the decision of the Full Court. On 14 July 2022, the full Panel of the Court of Appeal dismissed Mr Williams’ application (1) for leave to appeal the decision of the Full Court, and (2) for an extension of time to lodge that appeal, as the intended appeal had no merit.
On 23 August 2022, Mr Williams applied to the CCJ for special leave to appeal the decision of the Court of Appeal. This application was opposed by Ms Kissoon. Mr Williams argued that the order of the High Court striking him from the claim in his personal capacity should be restored. He submitted that the Full Court’s decision was tainted with bias. He also argued that joining him to the claim breached sections 3, 9, and 10 of the State Liability and Proceedings Act Cap 6:05 (the State Liability Act).
The CCJ considered the authorities relating to bias and the Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct and found that the judge of the Full Court ought to have recused himself given his close relationship with Ms Kissoon, the appellant before him. Nevertheless, the Court found that this issue was not determinative of the application for special leave because the CCJ still had to assess whether Mr Williams satisfied the test for obtaining special leave, i.e., whether the intending appellant demonstrated a realistic prospect of the appeal being successful.
To determine the prospect of success of the appeal, the CCJ considered and interpreted the State Liability Act. The Court noted that the State Liability Act was modelled after the United Kingdom’s Crown Proceedings Act 1947, ‘the UK Act’. Section 2 of the UK Act and section 3 of the State Liability Act both impose liability on the Crown (the State, in the case of republican Guyana) in cases where torts are committed by the agents or servants of the Crown, or State as the case may be, in the course of the execution of their duties. The Court found that there was nothing in the Act or any authority that removed the right of an injured party to sue the person who committed the tort for acts or omissions in the performance of their duties as agent or servant of the State.
The CCJ, therefore, found that the Full Court was entitled and right to restore Mr Williams to the suit as a defendant in his personal capacity. The CCJ dismissed the application for special leave and ordered Mr Williams to pay Ms Kissoon’s costs, to be assessed in accordance with Rule 17.13 Caribbean Court of Justice Appellate Jurisdiction Rules, 2021.
The judgment of the CCJ was delivered by the Hon Mr Justice Adrian Saunders, President, with the Hon Mr Justice Jacob Wit, and the Hon Mr Justice Winston Anderson comprising the rest of the Bench. Mr Basil Williams S.C. appeared as a litigant in person; Mr Nigel Hughes and Mr Jed Vasconcellos appeared for the First Respondent; Mr Siand A Dhurjon appeared for the Second Respondent; and Mr Nigel Hawke appeared for the Third Respondent.