Judge Browne Awards Finda Koroma Le30Million In DamagesNovember 15, 2013
In what looks like a dream for the Plaintiff, Ms. Finda Koroma; Sister of the Country’s 1st Lady Mrs. Sia Koroma wife of President Ernest Bai Koroma has turned out to be a reality, when High Court Judge, Justice Browne Marke slammed a Le30Million in damages and compensation to the Plaintiff whose reputation she testified in court had been defamed by the Standard Times Press, some two years back.
It would be recalled that the matter at the High Court between Standard Times and Ms. Finda Koroma commenced some two years back, when this medium published a front page article captioned RUF Robin Coker named …US$50,000 to disrupt Mining Industry in volume 34th edition on 14th July, 2010. The writ of summons from the Plaintiff was served on both Defendants and on 27th July, 2010 the Defendants through their Solicitor, Jenkins Johnston and Co. entered an appearance and on 8th November 2010, the Plaintiff filed her statement of claim. On 9th November, 2010 she filed an amended statement of claim through her Solicitor, Berthan Maccauley and Co, which was duly served on the Defendants.
The trial concluded with the Plaintiff emerging victorious and a cost of Le30Million in damages slammed on the Defendants by Justice Browne Marke of the High Court.
The order for the Le30 Million was handed down yesterday by High Court Judge, which should be honoured, together with the publication of the judgment of the Court and should be done locally and online; a responsibility to be carried out by the Defendants.
The Plaintiff, after the pronouncement of the Judgment was heard thanking Lawyer Garvas Betts (Jr), a member of the Berthan Maccauley Law Firm for what she considered a job well done. That notwithstanding, one of the Defendants in the matter, Mr. Philip Neville thanked their Solicitor, Mr. Leon Jenkins Johnston for courage shown throughout the proceedings and his determination to win though the outcome turned out to be contrary to his expectation, he however did his best during the entire period.
It is arguably true that Ms. Finda Koroma was not comfortable when the article for which she sought redress in court was published. It is for that reason she hired the services of Lawyer Berthan Macauley to prove her innocence, which has been buttressed by High Court Judge, Justice Browne Marke based on her evidence submitted in court.
Though, we did not intend to argue the matter any longer in the pages of our Newspaper, as the matter has already been concluded by a competent court in our jurisdiction, however; we wish to state that as journalists we are an integral part in the development of any state, therefore our role should not be perceived negatively, but considered as part of the development aspiration of Sierra Leone. We had nothing against Ms. Finda Koroma at the time of publishing the article and even now. She is a Sierra Leonean like all of us, and definitely has a role to play and still playing a role in national development. It is just that the roles are different, but geared towards accomplishing the same goal. However, the editorial team of this medium would wish to extend their unreserved apology to the Plaintiff, Ms. Finda Koroma and members of her families for the inconvenience they may have gone through during the period and even now that a judgment has been delivered in her favour. Once again, on behalf of the Standard Times we wish to say we are very sorry for the publication and the inconveniences, Ms. Finda Koroma may have gone through.
below is the rulling
IN THE HIGH COURT OF SIERRA LEONE
GENERAL CIVIL DIVISION
FINDA KOROMA – PLAINTIFF
PHILIP NEVILLE – 1ST DEFENDANT
I B M KAMARA – 2ND DEFENDANT
BERTHAN MACAULAY JNR for Plaintiff
LEON JENKINS-JOHNSTON ESQ for Defendants
BEFORE THE HONOURABLE MR JUSTICE N C BROWNE-MARKE JUSTICE OF APPEAL
JUDGMENT DELIVERED THE 21 DAY OF OCTOBER, 2013
THE WRIT OF SUMMONS
- By a Generally indorsed Writ of summons issued on 23rd July, 2010 the Plaintiff herein, Ms Finda Koroma brought an action against the Defendants jointly and severally for Damages for Libel contained in an article captioned: “RUF ROBIN-COKER NAMED ……$50,000 TO DISRUPT MINING INDUSTRY” published by the 1st and 2nd Defendants on the front page and at page 19 of the issue of Standard Times Newspaper Volume 34 of Wednesday July, 14th 2010; an Injunction Restraining the Defendants and each of them, by themselves, their servants, agents or otherwise from further publishing and or printing the said Libel or any similar libel upon the Plaintiff; and for the Costs of the action.
- The writ of summons was duly served on both Defendants, and on 27th (not 26th) July, 2010, both Defendants entered appearance to the same through their Solicitors Jenkins-Johnston & Co, and gave Notice of such entry of appearance, to the Plaintiff’s Solicitors, the same day.
- On 8th November, 2010, the Plaintiff filed her statement of claim. The next day, 9th November, 2010 she filed an amended statement of claim, and duly served the same on the Defendants.
AMENDED STATEMENT OF CLAIM
- The amended statement of claim read, inter alia as follows: The Plaintiff is a graduate of the University of Warwick, the University of Cambridge, and of the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration, where she obtained an MBA degree. She also holds other qualifications. Since graduating for the first time in 1984, she had held very important and high profile jobs in Africa and in the United States of America. All of the assignments in which she has been engaged are set out in full in the statement of claim, and I do not find it necessary to repeat them in this Judgment, as they were not disputed nor challenged by the Defendants. The qualifications she possesses, and the experience she had gathered and garnered in the various spheres in which she has been engaged, show that she is a highly educated person and that she is highly thought of by those who have sought her services.
- She alleges that at the material time, the 1st Defendant, Philip Neville was the proprietor and publisher of the Standard Times Newspaper, and that the 2nd Defendant was its Acting Editor. On 14th July, 2010, both Defendants printed and published in the Standard Times newspaper of that day, certain defamatory matters about the Plaintiff. The article in question began with a diatribe against a Mr. Robin-Coker, and progressed into a piece on the Plaintiff which read as follows: “…..Mr. Robin-Coker, sources at the Ministry of Mines and Minerals office explained was not the only individual engaged in the hunt for concession documents relating to Africa Minerals but also an unpopular name whose activities in the sub-region and the current political arrangement is an embarrassment to the Presidency…..Madam Finda Koroma, sister of the 1st Lady Sia Koroma is reportedly trading her sister’s fortunes and embarrassing the Presidential OFFICE to make a quick buck. She is not new to scams and can invent one at anytime because she is well known and in other countries in the sub-region, not because of her name but unpalatable activities and quest for money…..Recently, Finda Koroma and her team reportedly contacted a group of wheeler dealer businessmen from Kazakhstan who demonstrated interest in the mining concessions of African Minerals and the only way these wheeler dealers feel they can acquire part of the concession is to use the services of Finda Koroma, sister of the 1st Lady and the former RUF associate whose office is at State House…. The Strategic Police Unit (SPU) comprising retired and unproductive politicians was contacted to ill-advice President Koroma to disrupt the smoothness of the industry……Their ambition is to divide the Ministry of Mines and Mineral Resources and Iron Ore division, with focus on the Tonkolili and Marampa Mines Sector”.
- The Plaintiff contends as follows: that these words, in their natural and ordinary meaning meant and were understood to mean:
- That the Plaintiff’s conduct in the sub-region (West Africa) is such that it is causing embarrassment to the Presidency in the Republic of Sierra Leone.
- That the Plaintiff is improperly using the fact that the First Lady of the Republic of Sierra Leone, Mrs. Sia Koroma, is her sister, as part of her business portfolio and asset;
- That the Plaintiff is a person who has over a period of time been involved in dishonest plans for the making of money and that she is well known for same in the sub-region (West Africa) and in Liberia;
- That the Plaintiff is known in the sub-region for unpleasant and unacceptable behavior.
- That the Plaintiff associated herself with business men who conduct themselves in a dishonest way.
- That the Plaintiff, inter alia, was given the sum of USD50,000 to be improperly used to ensure that the business from Kazakhstan acquire part of the concession of African Minerals.
- That the Plaintiff, inter alia, contacted the Strategic Policy Unit to ensure that they did not give the President the correct advice.
INVITATION TO MAKE OFFER OF AMENDS – SECTION 7 OF THE DEFAMATION ACT, 1961.
- The Plaintiff contends further, that in consequence of this publication, her reputation has been seriously damaged, and that she has suffered distress and embarrassment. By Letter dated 14th July, 2010 her Solicitors demanded a retraction of this article and an apology for publishing the same.
- The Defendant’s response was a letter from their Solicitors, dated 15th July, 2010, in which the Solicitors said, inter alia, as follows: “Our clients stand by their story and maintain that their publication was a fair and accurate reporting on issues that affect the public and the nation as a whole, and further that the publication was in the public discharge of their duty as a media institution to educate the people as enshrined in the constitution of Sierra Leone….” The Plaintiff therefore prayed that she be awarded Damages for publication of this Defamatory matter, and that the Defendants be Restrained from publishing it on any further occasion.
DEFENDANTS’ JOINT DEFENCE
- The Defendants filed a joint Defence dated 6th December, 2010. They admitted the publication of 14th July, 2010, and, that they were respectively, Publisher and Acting Editor of the Standard Times Newspaper. The other averments, were as follows:
(4) The Defendants in answer to paragraphs 3 & 4 of the Statement of Claim deny the innuendoes, conjectures and meaning given to its publication as presumptuous and incorrect. The Defendants in further answer would aver that the issues contained in the said articles were issues of public and national concern and deny further that the publication referred to were understood to refer to, or were capable of referring to or being understood to refer to the Plaintiff as alleged in the statement of claim.
(5) The Defendants would further aver that these issues are in the public domain on the internet and is (sic) widely discussed by members of the public on the internet. The Plaintiff herself has even thought it fit to defend herself on the internet to the general public. The Defendants aver further that the Plaintiff is of questionable character in relation to her work in Liberia, Congo and the United States of America where she was a subject of the United States Department of Integrity probe where she operated in war-torn DR Congo as a confidante of its President Joseph Kabila she, along with President Kabila was accused of squandering US 100m provided for the demobilization of fighters.
(6) The Defendants aver further that the comments therein were fair comments and justified in the circumstances, and will also rely on section 9 of Act No. 32 of 1961.
(7) The Defendants aver further that it was certainly fair to comment in the interest of the public in line with the Defendants’ business as a Media Institute whose role is enshrined in section 25(1) of the Constitution of Sierra Leone, 1991.
(8) The Defendants deny each and every allegation in the statement of claim as if the same were herein set out and traversed seriatim. Counsel will note, I am sure, that I have corrected what are obvious errors in the statement of defence filed.
- By Notice dated 9th December, 2010 the Plaintiff, through her Solicitors, demanded of Defendants’ Solicitors that they produce for inspection a copy of the “United States Department of Integrity Probe” referred to in paragraph 5 of the statement of defence. By Notice dated 4th January, 2011 Defendant’s Solicitors responded that the Defendants did not have in their possession, nor had they said had in their possession the document in question, and for that reason, could not produce it. This response resulted in a formal Application being made to the Court, for the document to be produced, and for further and better particulars to be given of the plea of justification and fair comment; and, for particulars of the matters Defendants averred in their defence, was in the public interest.
- On 21st February, 2011 I gave Judgment on that Application. Part of what I said there, was as follows:
“At the hearing on 3 February, 2011 Mr. Macaulay argued in favour of the Orders sought by the Plaintiff and cited several authorities in support thereof. The case law authorities are in this file. Their relevance and applicability to the issues raised in this Application are undisputed. The dispute lies as to the facts: whether indeed there was a United States Department of Integrity Probe; whether the “probe” is a document; whether either or both Defendants had it in their custody at any point in time; whether they still have it in their possession; and whether they should now produce it for inspection by the Plaintiff.
At the end of Mr. Macaulay’s arguments, Mr. Jenkins-Johnston stated that the Defendants were not opposed to providing what in their view they considered to be justification and fair play in the manner set out in Bullen & Leake (i.e. the 13th Edition cited by Mr. Macaulay). In other words, the Defendants were not opposed to the granting of the Orders prayed for in paragraph 2 of the Notice of Motion.
In the premises, I ORDER that the Defendants do within 14 days of the date of this Order serve on the Plaintiff in writing the following particulars of the Defendants’ Defence: (i) under both paragraphs 6 & 7, the facts relied upon in support of the plea of justification and the claim of fair comment (ii) under Paragraph 7, the matters alleged to be of, and in the public interest. If the Defendants Default in service of these particulars within the time stated herein, the said paragraphs shall be struck out from their defence, and they shall be precluded from giving evidence in support of the same at the trial.
I commend Mr. Jenkins-Johnston for his candour in conceding to this part of the Application. Opposing the same would really have been pointless, as in my experience, in all Libel cases, whenever a plea of justification and a claim of fair comment have been raised by a defendant, that defendant has always been required to provide particulars of the same. Indeed, as I pointed out to both Counsel during the course of argument, I had to do so myself as Solicitor and Counsel for the Defendant in 1994 in the unreported case of DR PETER TUCKER v BANGURA in which coincidentally, Mr. Macaulay was Counsel for the Plaintiff. Having then, after careful research of the authorities, conceded the point as Counsel at the Bar, I have no logical reason to depart from that stance whilst now sitting on this Bench”.
- The Defendants’ Solicitors did eventually, by letter dated 4th March, 2011, give further and better particulars of the pleas of fair comment and justification. It began by reciting some of the jobs the Plaintiff had been engaged in. In paragraph 8, the Defendants averred that: “The Plaintiff’s work in both Liberia and Congo is the source of many discussions on the internet which necessitate her to defend herself on the internet. (This surely was of concern to her to address it “to whom it may concern”. This is surely addressed to the public”. The Defendants went on to rely on Sections 8 and 9 of the Defamation Act, 1961, and sub-Section 25(1) of the Constitution of Sierra Leone, 1991. The other averments in paragraphs 11 – 14, I do not think have much relevance to whether the information provided, satisfied the Law relating to fair comment and justification. On 15th March, 2011 the Defendants filed these particulars.
- On 21st February, 2011 I had also been called upon to rule on whether the Defendants should be called upon to produce for inspection by Plaintiffs’ Solicitors, the so-called Integrity Probe. This is what I said in my Judgment that day:
“Further argument was therefore confined to the first Order prayed for by the Plaintiff. In this respect, the 1st Defendant filed an affidavit in opposition deposed and sworn to by him on 8 February, 2011. The 2nd Defendant has not filed any. In this affidavit, the 1st Defendant deposes, inter alia, that “….with regards to the document referred to as United States Department of Integrity Probe, I saw this document at the United States Department of Integrity Probe, I saw this document at the United States Department Library when I visited the United States, but I did not take or make a copy……there are several articles on the internet which the Plaintiff can access and make copies on the issue and indeed on herself….. I have taken the trouble to exhibit the articles attached which I got off the internet for the Courts attention…..copies of the documents are exhibited hereto and marked A1-3….that the second is a document prepared by the Plaintiff……marked B1-2…..that the third document is by Vivian Gratyn …… marked C1-3…..that the fourth is a document entitled KNUCCKLES-GATE II CORRUPTION SAGA DRAGNET WIDENS….marked D1-4”.
First, I must state that on the state of the authorities, I agree with Mr. Macaulay, that the Plaintiff need not wait until trial to request production of the probe for inspection, so long as it has been referred to in Defendants’ Defence. Order 27 Rule 10 is clear on this point. It is irrelevant, as contended by Mr. Jenkins-Johnston that the ‘probe’ does not form part of the Plaintiff’s case; nor that it was not mentioned in the offending passages of the article, the subject matter of the Libel action. It is clear that the Defendants will be relying on the ‘probe’ at the trial as is made evident in paragraph 5 of their defence, and in their letter of 14 December, 2010. And this being the case, the Plaintiff is entitled to know at this stage, the documentary evidence she will be faced with at the trial, in order not to be taken by surprise. As I pointed out to Mr. Jenkins-Johnston whilst he was addressing the Court, a Libel action is unlike other civil actions, in that if a Defendant proposes to rely on a certain defence such as justification or fair comment, he must substantiate before trial, in the manner laid down by statute, both plea and claim.
After reading through the 1st Defendant’s affidavit in opposition, I have come to the conclusion that the so-called probe is no mystery. It is not a document which is no longer in the custody and possession of the 1st defendant; nor is it likely, as deposed by 1st Defendant in paragraph 2 of that affidavit that “….I saw this document at the United States Department Library when I visited the United States, but I did not take or make a copy”. Exhibit A page 1 annexed to 1st Defendant’s affidavit is purportedly an extract from a website in the name of APARECO. Several references are made in it to a US Department of Integrity Probe concerning the Plaintiff. There is no proof of authenticity or of the provenance of the document or of its contents. As it has been provided by the 1st Defendant himself, it appears this is the source of his allegation that the Plaintiff was the subject matter of such a probe; it is not something he read or saw in the US State Department Library or in any other Library in the United States. The suggestion made by Mr. Jenkins-Johnston that somebody would have to be called as a witness from the US State Department to prove the origin and authenticity of the probe, was mere bluff and posturing. Whether one can lawfully repeat something which one does not know the truth of, and which one certainly cannot prove, is a matter for the trial Court. For what it is worth, it seems to be the source of the probe, and not some fancied US State Department document. I therefore Order, in addition to the Orders I have made above, that the Defendants do immediately provide Plaintiffs’ Solicitors with the website address of APARECO and of the exact location on that website of the extract exhibited as A1-3 to the affidavit of the 1st Defendant, and the date the same was uploaded.
It is my considered opinion, and my Judgment, that the Defendants could have saved a considerable amount of time and expense if they had forwarded exhibit A1-3 to Plaintiff’s Solicitors. Plaintiffs’ Solicitors would have then been in a position to assess whether the exhibit sufficed for purposes of the trial, or whether the true origin of the allegation of a probe should be sought in Court. As the Defendants are responsible for this Application being made, they shall bear the Costs of the same, such Costs to be Taxed, if not agreed. My views on the United States Integrity Probe remain the same.
- On 1st March, 2011 I had to clarify, at the request of Plaintiff’s Counsel, some of the views I had expressed in my Judgment of 21st February, 2011. Referring to paragraph 12 of that Judgment, this is what I had to say: What I meant, and certainly intended, was that irrespective of the posture or stance taken by the 1st Defendant in his Solicitors’ letter and in his joint Defence with 2nd Defendant, both mentioned above, as of 8 February, 2011 the 1st Defendant had taken a new line: there was no independent ‘probe’ in existence. What he had with him was what he exhibited as “A”. I cannot ignore, in my view, what he has stated or filed in this Court, notwithstanding the fact, that what he now says on 8 February, 2011 apparently contradicts what he had said in his Defence and in his Solicitors’ letter in December, 2010. What I am certain about, is that unless he appeals, or both he and 2nd Defendant appeal, against my Judgment of 21 February, 2011, he or they will not be able to recant the position 1st Defendant took on 8 February, 2011. In a sworn affidavit filed in this Court, 1st Defendant has given as his source of the information that there was an Integrity Probe, an extract downloaded from the APARECO website. I have accepted his new stance, and I have adjudged that he is bound by it. That does not necessarily mean I believe it. Whether what he says is true or not, is a matter for the Trial Court. That Extract is the only Probe, he has sworn on oath, he has in his possession. As I said in my Judgment, “Whether one can lawfully repeat something which one does not know the truth of, and which one certainly cannot prove, is a matter for the trial Court”. The trial Court will have to decide whether he was justified in repeating without checking its authenticity and truth, what the Plaintiff claims to be a Libel upon her person and upon her character. I believe I can assuage the Plaintiff’s Counsel fears that 1st Defendant may well resile from his present position at trial, and insist that he was relying on the Probe which he saw and read in a Library in the United States, by stating that though one can amend a Defence filed, one cannot really amend an affidavit in respect of which there is a Judgment, which Judgment has not been challenged”. Once more, I must say that my views remain the same.
- I have cited these passages principally to show that I have reached a conclusion on some of the legal issues which have arisen in this case, and I see no reason why I should depart from it, having now heard all of the evidence led by the Plaintiff, including the answers given by her in cross-examination.
- 16. On the Plaintiff’s Application, I had cause on 14th March, 2011 to refer the Judgments of 21st February and 1st March, 2011 respectively, to the Court of Appeal. On 16th June, 2011 the Court of Appeal Ruled that I “……was right in holding that (I) had no duty to order production for inspection something which the 1st Defendant down loaded from the APARECO website….”
- On 22 March, 2012, I gave Directions for the future conduct of the action. One of the Directions I gave was: “that the 1st Defendant shall immediately comply with the Order of this Court made the 7th Day of July, 2011, that is: (i) Produce a certified true copy of exhibit A1-3 and file and serve same on plaintiff’s Solicitors; (ii) File and serve a certified true copy of the article or document downloaded from the Aparaco website”. Prior to this Direction, the Defendants had filed what purported to be a certified true copy of the extract from the website, on 25th January, 2012, though it appears that it was only notarized by the head of Defendants’ Solicitors’ Firm, Mr. J B Jenkins-Johnston, on 7th February, 2012.
DEFENDANTS’ AMENDED JOINT DEFENCE
- On 15th March, 2012 the Defendants filed a joint amended Defence, incorporating the further and better particulars they had earlier given to the Plaintiff’s Solicitors. On 18th April, 2012, the Plaintiff filed an amended Reply to the Defendants’ joint Defence. In it, she denied that she was of questionable character, and that she was at any point in time, the subject of the alleged United States Department of Integrity Probe. She joined issue with the Defendants upon their joint defence and pleaded that paragraph 6 of that Defence be struck off as it did not disclose a reasonable defence. The action was entered for trial on 18 April, 2012.
PLAINTIFF’S NOTICE OF ISSUES IN DISPUTE
- On 30th April, 2012 the Plaintiff filed a Notice stating that she would be the only witness at the trial, and listing certain admissions made by the Defendants in their joint defence. She identified the issues in dispute as: (1) whether the natural and ordinary meaning of the words complained of by her in paragraph 4.1 of her amended statement of claim, bore the meanings ascribed to them by her; (2) whether the matters published and complained off referred to, and or were understood to refer to her, the plaintiff as she had been named; (3) whether the Defendants’ plea of fair comment and justification had been properly pleaded and was maintainable: (4) whether the Defendants’ reliance on Section 25 of the Constitution of Sierra Leone, 1991 was a sufficient defence to her claim as pleaded. I accept these questions as the issues in dispute in this action.
- On 9th May, 2012 the Defendants filed a Notice forwarding there-under to the Court, and to Plaintiff’s Solicitors, articles written by one Vivian Gratyn, by the Plaintiff herself, and by one J Wehtee-Maotee Wion; and also a Report from Apareco titled “Who’s Finda Koroma?”.
- There were still difficulties to be encountered. The Defendants had not fully complied with the Directions given by the Court on 22nd March, 2012. As of the Bundle. She said that nowhere had it been alleged in that document that she had received a bribe of USD50,000
PLAINTIFF’S RELATIONSHIP WITH H.E. THE PRESIDENT
- She explained her connection with HE, The President, her brother-in-Law. She was at the Albert Academy School with his sister, Elizabeth in 1979. Later, he married her sister, the present 1st Lady. She denied having a job at State House, and said that all she had done, as a Sierra Leonean who was interested in her country’s development, was to make introductions. She denied that she had been doing work at State House because of her relationship with HE, The President.
PLAINTIFF’S RELATIONSHIP WITH H.E. MRS ELLEN JOHNSON-SIRLEAF
- She went on to explain her relationship with HE, The President of Liberia, Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. The relationship had been cordial. She was the Plaintiff’s boss. Articles had been written about her, particularly about the use of the computer in President’s Sirleaf’s house, but these articles were untrue, and President Sirleaf had shrugged them off.
PLAINTIFF’S WORK IN THE D.R.C.
- She had worked in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She had worked for President Kabila, and she had managed the Social Fund. The Fund had received a Grant of USD 60million from the World Bank. She had not been involved with the disarmament of combatants. The Project was similar to our own NACSA programme. The first time she heard that she had squandered funds meant for that Social Fund, was in the Defendant’s Defence. She was no longer working in the DRC. She left there in 2006. She left because she had been there for 5 years. She was not fired; she resigned her appointment.
DENIAL OF MEETING ANYONE FROM KAZAKHSTAN
- She denied meeting anyone from Kazakhstan. She agreed again that she did meet Mr. Barruso, and that she introduced him to State House. She ended by disagreeing that nothing Libelous had been said about her in the offending article. She however agreed that allegations about her time in the DRC and in Liberia are in the public domain.
- In re-examination, she merely said that the 1st lady, Mrs. Sia Koroma has no other sister going by the name of Finda. She also denied that she was the subject of a United States Department Integrity Probe. The Plaintiff closed her case at this stage.
DEFENDANTS’ CASE – NO CASE PRESENTED BY DEFENCE
- The Defendants did not file any witness statement, nor, did they call witnesses. Mr. Macaulay, Counsel for the Plaintiff filed a written closing address. On the day of the oral hearing, 2nd July, 2012, Mr. Macaulay made a slight addition to his written address: he added a new sub-paragraph 3,7,1,2,5, “I wish to add that Defendants have not addressed the Court. Evidence to be taken into consideration in assessing Damages”. Mr. Leon Jenkins-Johnston said that he did not wish to say anything. Judgment was then reserved.
- The law has been clearly stated by Mr. Macaulay in his closing written address, and there is nothing I can usefully add to that. What I have to decide is whether on the basis of the evidence led by the Plaintiff, she has been able to prove on a balance of probabilities that her character and reputation have been defamed and besmirched by the Defendants; and whether if so, the Defendants were entitled to so defame her in the public interest; and/or that what they had written about her amounted to fair comment, or, was justified by her conduct. It seems to me that the Defendants have not seriously challenged the Plaintiff’s case. They admit that the offending article was printed and published by them. What they seem to be saying is that the allegations made by them in their newspaper, have been circulating for a while, and are therefore in the public domain. What they have done, according to them, is to merely repeat these lurid allegations. Unfortunately for them, a Libel is still a Libel, even if it has been said or printed before, and the victim has done nothing about it. The Defendants can only escape liability if firstly, they are protected by the provisions of Section 25 of the Constitution, 1991; secondly, if they can rely on a plea of justification; and thirdly, if they can rely on a plea of fair comment.
- It is clear on the evidence, that no “offer of amends” in the terms stated in Section 7 of the Defamation Act, 1961 was made by either or both Defendants. A demand for a retraction of the defamatory matter was made by Plaintiff’s Solicitors; but the Defendants ignored the same, and stood their ground.
SECTION 25 OF THE CONSTITUTION OF SIERRA LEONE, 1991
- As regards Section 25 of the Constitution, subsection (2) thereof makes it clear that the protection afforded publishing houses is not without limitation. It states: “Nothing contained in or done under the authority of any law shall be held to be inconsistent with or in contravention of this section to the extent that the law in question makes provision – (a) which is reasonably required – (i) in the interests of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health; or (ii) for the purpose of protecting the reputations, rights and freedoms of other persons….. “The Defamation Act, 1961 is one such Law which is not inconsistent with, nor, in contravention of, the protective provisions in Section 25. It is intended to protect the reputations of persons who allege that they have been defamed by a publication which is circulated to more than one person.
- I find as a fact that the offending article was directed at the person and character of the Plaintiff. I accept her evidence that she is the only person known as Finda Koroma who is sister to the 1st Lady, Mrs. Sia Koroma, and who is also the sister-in-law of HE, The President. Coming to the specific allegations contained in the article, the Plaintiff was cross-examined about her work in the DRC and in Liberia. It was suggested to her by Mr. Jenkins-Johnston that she had met with people from Kazakhstan. She denied this suggestion. She explained how she met Mr. Barruso in Senegal; how he got the invitation to come to Sierra Leone with his associates, and how he had been told by the then Minister of Mines and Mineral resources, that there were no more Licenses to be had in Tonkolili. If, as alleged in the article, the Plaintiff “……and her team reportedly contacted a group of wheeler dealer businessmen from Kazakhstan who demonstrated interest in the mining concessions of African Minerals and the only way these wheeler dealers feel they can acquire part of the concession is to use the services of Finda Koroma, sister of the 1st lady….” her denial that she had met people from Kazakhstan, could have been proved to be untrue by the Defendants. The Defendants made no attempt to contradict her in this respect. The Plaintiff also denied in cross-examination that she had received the sum of USD 50,000 from any source. Likewise, she was not challenged in this respect also. Alleging in a newspaper published in Sierra Leone and on the internet that the sister of the 1st lady is “……reportedly trading her sister’s fortunes and embarrassing the Presidential office to make a quick buck…. (and that) she is not new to scams and can invent one at any time because she is desperate for money…” means ordinarily that that person is dishonest; that she is misusing her relationship with HE, The President for unsavoury and personal gain. Further, alleging in the same publication that the Plaintiff is well known in Liberia and other countries in the sub-region “….not because of her name but unpalatable activities and quest for money…” means undoubtedly that the Plaintiff is an unpleasant and crooked person. Juxtaposing the Plaintiff’s name with an arm of Government, the Strategic Policy unit, and suggesting that she contacted this body to render ill-advice to HE, The President, suggests that the Plaintiff is influential and is misusing such influence to get officials in the SPU to tender inappropriate advice to HE The President.
- Ironically, in their joint defence, the Defendants have gone on to make more serious allegations of misconduct on the part of the Plaintiff. She was accused in that pleading of squandering together with a foreign Head of State, President Kabila, USD 100 million provided for the demobilization of combatants. That statement is clearly libelous as well.
- I am satisfied in mind that all of the portions of the article referring to the conduct of the Plaintiff, are not only capable of being defamatory, but are clearly Libelous and defamatory of her character and reputation. I have given the words their ordinary meaning in the paragraphs above, as I am entitled to do in Law. It is for me, sitting as Judge and jury to “determine the sense in which the words would reasonably have been understood by an ordinary man in the light of generally known facts and meaning of words”.
- As is stated in GATLEY ON LIBEL AND SLANDER 11th Edition, paragraph 34.31 at page 1178 cited by Mr. Macaulay in his closing address, “…However the burden is generally upon the Claimant to satisfy the jury that the words in their natural and ordinary meaning convey a defamatory imputation…” and as I have said above, the words complained of, are in their ordinary meaning, defamatory of character, in this case, the Plaintiff’s character.
- I agree with Mr. Macaulay that the Defendants have failed to properly plead the defences of fair comment and/or justification. The onus of proof in this respect is on the Defendants, and in my view, they have failed to discharge that onus. It was for this reason, that I bent backwards time and again, to allow them to opportunity, to produce for instance; the United States State Department Integrity Probe they had alleged had found the Plaintiff wanting. And it is for this reason also, that I have recited in the opening paragraphs of this Judgment what I considered to be my assessment of this so-called Probe. In order to succeed on a plea of justification, the Defendants must prove that the defamatory matter is true. To constitute fair comment, the facts on which such comment is based must be true. There are really no facts to support the defamatory comments made by the Defendants. The absence of the Defendants from the witness stand is quite instructive; in addition, they have called no witnesses in their defence.
- I find therefore that the plaintiff has proved her case on a balance of probabilities and that the Defendants are liable to her in Damages.
- Mr. Macaulay has addressed me on the issue of damages at pages 12-13 of his written when closing address. It is presumed in all cases where there has been a finding that the Plaintiff has been defamed and/or libeled that he or she has suffered some damage. It is for the Court to quantify the Damages. I shall invite Counsel’s submissions on the quantum of Damages to be awarded to aid the Court’s determination.
- The Plaintiff succeeds in her claim and is entitled to Damages, the quantum, of which will be fixed after I have heard from Counsel. Costs to the Plaintiff such costs to be Taxed if not agreed.
THE HONOURABLE MR JUSTICE N C BROWNE-MARKE