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Imbert warns of removing libel, defamation laws

By By Camille Bethel camille.bethel@trinidadexpress.com

Opposition Member of Parliament for Die­goMartin North/East Colm Imbert has warned Go­­­­vernment against theremoval of what he des­cribed as “the only protection” for pub­licfigures and has sug­ges­ted an amend­ment to, and not the abolishment of, the criminal offences of libel and defamation.

Speaking in the Lower House at Tower D, Inter­na­­tional Waterfront Cen­tre, Port of Spain, on Fri­­day evening, Imbert said: “The fact is we must be very careful in this Parlia­ment about what we do; once it is done, it is al­most impossible to reverse it. 

“I cannot see a future Par­liament, if we tamper with this legislation in this

way, coming back to Par­lia­ment to put it back.

And, therefore, I am asking Government to pause and I

am going to sug­gest an

amendment to the legis­­lation. I don’t think we should re­move Section 9 (of the Libel and De­famation Act) in its enti­re­ty. I think we could leave the fine.

“Madame Speaker, be­cause it is the media house, and we could fa­shion it to make it clear, that it is the publisher that would be prosecuted and made to pay the fine. I think we could look at an amendment. We could

remove the term of impri­sonment from Sec­tion 9 but leave it as a criminal offence. I will even redraft Section 9 to take into account the points I have made. So in order to go along with this concept that it is so horrible to im­prison journalists, let us leave the fine and take out the imprisonment,” he said.  

Imbert, who said he un­-

derstood where Attorney General Anand Ramlo­gan was coming from in his

presentation earli­er, said he found the AG’s contribution to be unbal­anced.

“One could be forgiven in coming to conclusions that (Ramlogan) had shares in a newspaper, own­er­ship in a newspa­per, because there was very little balance in his

presentation. He argued the point from the pers­pec­tive of the media and not from the persons who are defamed, such as members of this hon­our­able House and members of the public—private citizens.

“And in any discussion of this issue, one must have balance. It is all very well to quote from statements of the In­ter­na­tional Press Institute and other organisations that seek the interest of journalists and so on—they have a job to do —but when one is dealing with something like this, which fundamentally affects the jobs and the lives of members of this honourable House and the private citizens, there is a need for balance,” Imbert said.

He also expressed sur-

­prise that members of the Government who have

expressed their anger at

things that have been

pub­lished in the newspa­pers, have criti­cised the media and have accused

the media of having ven-

­det­tas and con­spi­racies want to abolish the cri­mi­­-

nal libel and defamation law.

Imbert argued free­dom of expression is not an absolute right but subject to law, adding civil actions and civil remedies did not make the point that criminal remedies were unnecessary.

He said the fact the law of criminal libel has not been invoked in recent years does not mean it is not needed. 

“After all, prosecutions are, in one sense, a sign not of the success of a law

but the failure to pre­vent the conduct in question. The infrequency of prose­cutions does not render them unconstitutional and this is another impor­tant point. I agree that the small number of prose­cutions may well be due to its effectiveness in deter­-

ring the publication of defa­matory libel. 

“The mere fact that on our books, in this point in time, there is an offence of defamatory libel which is punishable by a fine and/or a jail term. The fact that there have been almost no

prosecutions in our juris­diction may well be to its effectiveness in deterring publication of defamatory libel,” he said.

The Lower House was adjourned following Im­bert’s contribution and debate is scheduled to resume on January 24.

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