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Al-Rawi: Repeal the entire act

By Carla Bridglal carla.bridglal@trinidadexpress.com

The entire Defamation and Libel Act 2013 should be repealed, Opposition Senator Faris Al-Rawi said yesterday.

In his contribution to the debate on amendments to the act in the Senate yesterday, at the Parliament Chamber, Tower D, International Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain, Al-Rawi said the whole law needed to be reviewed with a holistic approach and suggested the English model for consideration on how the legislation can be reformed.

The amendments to the current defamation laws include decriminalising defamation while maintaining civil pen­alties. 

“Should we play smart with foolishness? Are we really being honest and genuine in our attempt to change the law? In view of the proposal, we keep Section Eight, and leaving Section Four and Section 13, which has a prison term, are we going far enough for the supposed goal of decriminalisation?” he asked. 

He pointed out the Data Protection Act, which had been passed since 2011 but not yet fully proclaimed, dealt with certain issues and levelled stiffer penalties than the current defamation legislation.  

“(It calls for) members of the media to basically face criminal action if that section is brought to life for the mere fact they have kept personal information.... Media houses suffer by far a worse penalty in the proclamation of Section Four of the Data Protection Act, (but part five) deals with contravention and enforcements,” he said.

That is by far more than the never once prosecuted crimes of Section Nine of the Defamation Act, he added.

Al-Rawi said data he acquired from the judiciary showed from 2005-2013, 164 defamation matters were filed in the courts, of which 109 were thrown out. 

“There was a steady but not significant flow of defamation cases in the courts.... Why repeal the law? One would think with the amount of sensational news, we would have more defamation cases. But the answer is because of the cost of litigation,” he said.

The case between Dr Keith Rowley versus Michael Annisette was settled last week for $500,000. In contrast, some cases taken to the Privy Council can run a bill of up to $1.2 million, he said.

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