Vere Bird III’s defamation suit against PM heard in High Court

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By Latrishka Thomas

[email protected]

The High Court yesterday heard testimonies in the defamation suit filed by Vere Bird III against Prime Minister Gaston Browne for statements made on social media in 2019.

The claim, which was filed in the High Court on December 12 2019, states that Bird – an attorney and politician – is claiming “damages for defamation against the defendant, for words published and broadcasted on Facebook on the 5th, 6th and 8th of November 2019”.

Browne allegedly made statements referring to a Cabinet decision of 2003 where the claimant was offered an acre of land for a purchase price of $25,000.

At that time, Bird III’s father was Minister of Agriculture and Lands.

The Prime Minister was represented by attorney Jarid Hewlett who first questioned Bird’s political career.

The lawyer then asked the claimant if he was aware that the aforementioned concession was set aside for Cabinet ministers but Bird said that he was unaware.

He also didn’t agree with the lawyer who questioned whether he was entitled to the discount.

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Claimant, Vere Bird III

The attorney then went on to ask the claimant how he came to be offered such a concession and he indicated that he did not apply for it nor did he ask any member of parliament, including his father, for assistance.

He said that a third party offered to assist him in obtaining land and brought the Cabinet decision to him six months later.

The claimant also claimed to be unaware of whether or not his father or the third party approached any member of the Cabinet requesting the land at 57 cents per square foot.

“Wouldn’t your father have been the one to ask for such concession,” Hewlett asked.

“I don’t know because I never asked,” Bird III responded.

Bird was adamant that the decision was “legitimate”.

The defendant however stated otherwise.

Browne told the court that, “It could not have been legitimate.”

He said that there is a process which must be followed and in addition “no third party who is not a member of Cabinet could obtain a legitimate decision”.

“The fact that the claimant said he did not make an application would confirm that process was not followed and was flawed,” he added.

Browne was then cross examined by the claimant’s lawyer Ruggles Ferguson KC who was assisted by Luann DeCosta.

Ruggles first asked the Prime Minister about the oath that each Cabinet member has to take. Browne disclosed that it speaks to keeping the business of Cabinet confidential.

He went on to ask Browne who determines if a previous Cabinet decision is valid and the Prime Minister indicated that it is the Cabinet who collectively makes that decision and while there was no Cabinet conclusion to reverse the decision, “the Cabinet cannot reverse what it doesn’t know about”.

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Defendant Gaston Browne and his attorney Jarid Hewlett

Ferguson also queried whether Browne was present at every Cabinet meeting and Browne said that when he wasn’t he reviewed the minutes of the meeting.

He also said that if a member of the public requested such a discount it would have been against policy guidelines at the time.

During the trial Bird’s reputation was also questioned.

Bird claims that Browne’s 2019 statements damaged his character.

However, the defendant’s lawyers put forward several Facebook posts made by Bird which they believed to be vulgar.

Bird said that his posts do not lower his reputation but instead he is held in high esteem by members of society.

The two sides are expected to submit written closing arguments by March 22, after which Justice Nicola Byer will make her decision.

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