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.