might be is against the law in Trinidad & Tobago to post statements online, such as Facebook and Twitter, whereas such statements are considered libel or defamation.
Section 8 of Trinidad & Tobago’s Libel and Defamation Act states:
“If any person maliciously publishes any defamatory libel, knowing the same to be false, he is liable on conviction to imprisonment for two years and to pay such fine as the Court directs.”
History of Libel and Defamation
I decided to do a little research on ttparliament.org and I was able to find the “Libel and Defamation (AMDT.) Bill, 2013“. I looked through the bill essentials document, which outlines what the proposed amendment was about and saw that in 2013 there was a proposal to repeal Section 9 of the original bill. Here is an excerpt from the document itself.
This Bill seeks to repeal Section 9 of the Libel and Defamation Act, Chap. 11:16, consequently abolishing the offence of Malicious Defamatory Libel. The existing Section 9 imposes a fine and one (1) year imprisonment on a person convicted of maliciously publishing any defamatory libel.
Bill Essentials: Page 1 – What is the purpose of the bill?
I was looking through the 2nd reading of the bill and I came across the opening statement by the attorney general who was at that time Anand Ramlogan. He goes on to explain that it was Sir Henry Macleod who is credited with the introduction of English law and trial by jury in Trinidad & Tobago.
…during the period 1840—1845, Sir Henry Macleod, an Irish man, who was considered amongst the more British of the governors to have served Trinidad and Tobago ruled […], and led to the introduction of the English laws and the trial by jury. […] It was under his tenure, in the year 1845, that an ordinance to amend the law with respect to defamatory words and libel was enacted.
2nd reading | Hansard: Page 10-11
The ordinance was Section 9, which had said:
If any person maliciously publishes any defamatory libel, upon conviction thereof he is liable to pay a fine and to imprisonment for one year.
Current law regarding Libel and Defamation
The Libel and Defamation Act, Chapter 11:16 can be found on the Ministry of Legal Affairs website. While i’m not a lawyer; I do know documents like these use specific language to circumvent loopholes; which is why most people have a hard time reading them.
It is important to note that the actual document contains 17 sections, however, only Section 8 matters to most individuals.
Section 8 states “If any person maliciously publishes any defamatory libel, knowing the same to be false, he is liable on conviction to imprisonment for two years and to pay such fine as the Court directs.”
Section 8 and Section 9 comparison
If you look at the document you’ll notice that Section 9 was repealed. Take a look at the wording for Section 9 below, doesn’t it read the same as Section 8? Actually not quite.
Section 9: “If any person maliciously publishes any defamatory libel, upon conviction thereof he is liable to pay a fine and to imprisonment for one year.”
Section 8: “If any person maliciously publishes any defamatory libel, knowing the same to be false, he is liable on conviction to imprisonment for two years and to pay such fine as the Court directs.”
With Section 8, if you post any libel statements, knowing it to be false, you would face penalties. This shows that you had malicious intent to harm a person’s reputation. However, If you didn’t know it was false, then that’s for the courts to decide.
With Section 9 if you posted any libel statement, you would have faced penalties, regardless of knowing or not knowing.
Trinidad & Tobago’s Libel And Defamation Act
Here is the complete Act copied and pasted from the government website. This is a little easier to view than browsing a PDF.
1. This Act may be cited as the Libel and Defamation Act.
2. No action for defamation shall be maintainable in any
Court of justice in Trinidad and Tobago in respect of words
spoken, except in those cases in which an action would be
maintainable in respect of the same words in England.
3. In any action for defamation or for libel, the defendant
may plead the truth of the matters charged by way of justification
in the same manner as he might do in a like action in a Court in
England and the plea shall be a sufficient answer in law to any
such action; and if, on the issue joined on such plea, a verdict is
given for the defendant, the defendant shall have final judgment
and recover his costs of suit.
4. In any action for defamation, the defendant may (after
notice in writing of his intention to do so duly given to the
plaintiff at the time of filing or delivering the plea in the action)
give in evidence in mitigation of damages, that he made or
offered an apology to the plaintiff for the defamation before the
commencement of the action or as soon afterwards as he had an
opportunity of doing so in case the action was commenced before
there was an opportunity of making or offering the apology.
5. In any action for a libel contained in any public newspaper
or other periodical publication, it shall be competent to the defendant
to plead that the libel was inserted in the newspaper or other
periodical publication without actual malice, and without gross
negligence, and that before the commencement of the action, or at
the earliest opportunity afterwards, he inserted in the newspaper or
other periodical publication a full apology for the libel, or, if the
newspaper or periodical publication in which the libel appeared is
ordinarily published at intervals exceeding one week, had offered to
publish the apology in any newspaper or periodical publication to be
selected by the plaintiff in the action; and every such defendant shall,
upon filing such plea, be at liberty to pay into Court a sum of money
by way of amends for the injury sustained by the publication of the
libel; and the payment into Court shall be of the same effect and be
available in the same manner and to the same extent as any payment
into Court under the rules of the Supreme Court.
6. Words spoken and published which impute unchastity or
adultery to any woman or girl shall not require special damage to
render them actionable; but in any action for words spoken and
made actionable by this section, a plaintiff shall not recover more
costs than damages, unless the Court certifies that there was
reasonable ground for bringing the action.
7. In all actions for libel or slanderous words spoken, to be
sued or prosecuted by any person in the High Court, if upon the
trial the damages are found and assessed under one hundred
dollars, then the plaintiff in the action shall have and recover only
so much costs as the damages so given or assessed amount to,
any law, custom, or usage to the contrary notwithstanding.
8. If any person maliciously publishes any defamatory libel,
knowing the same to be false, he is liable on conviction to
imprisonment for two years and to pay such fine as the Court directs.
9. (Repealed by Act No. 2 of 2014).
10. (1) On the trial of any indictment for a defamatory libel,
the defendant having pleaded the plea as mentioned in this
section, the truth of the matters charged may be enquired into, but
shall not amount to a defence, unless it was for the public benefit
that the matters charged should be published; and to entitle the
defendant to give evidence of the truth of the matters charged as
a defence to the indictment, it shall be necessary for the
defendant in pleading to the indictment to allege the truth of the
matters charged in the manner required in pleading a justification
to an action for defamation, and further to allege that it was for
the public benefit that the matters charged should be published,
and the particular fact or facts by reason whereof it was for the
public benefit that the matters charged should be published, to
which plea the prosecutor shall be at liberty to reply generally
denying the whole thereof; but if after the plea the defendant is
convicted on the indictment, it shall be competent to the Court in
pronouncing sentence to consider whether the guilt of the
defendant is aggravated or mitigated by the plea, and by the
evidence given to prove or disprove it.
(2) The truth of the matters charged in the alleged libel
complained of by the indictment shall in no case be enquired into
without such plea or justification; and, in addition to such plea, it
shall be competent to the defendant to plead a plea of not guilty.
(3) Nothing contained in this Act shall take away or
prejudice any defence under the plea of not guilty which is
competent to the defendant to make under the plea to an action or
indictment for defamatory words or libel.
11. Whenever, upon the trial of any indictment for the
publication of a libel under the plea of not guilty, evidence is
given which establishes a presumptive case of publication against
the defendant by the act of any other person by his authority, it
shall be competent to the defendant to prove that the publication
was made without his authority, consent, or knowledge, and that
the publication did not arise from want of due care or caution on
12. In the case of an indictment by a private prosecutor for the
publication of any defamatory libel, if judgment is given for the
defendant, he is entitled to recover from the prosecutor the costs
sustained by the defendant by reason of the indictment; and upon a
special plea of justification to the indictment, if the issue is found for
the prosecutor, he is entitled to recover from the defendant the costs
sustained by the prosecutor by reason of the plea, such costs to be
recovered by the defendant or prosecutor respectively to be taxed by
the proper officer of the Court before which the indictment is tried.
13. (1) A fair and accurate report in any newspaper of
proceedings publicly heard before any Court exercising judicial
authority shall, if published contemporaneously with the
proceedings, be privileged, but nothing in this section shall
authorise the publication of blasphemous or indecent matter.
(2) It is an offence to print or publish, or cause or
procure to be printed or published—
(a) in relation to any judicial proceedings, any
indecent matter or indecent medical, surgical or
physiological details being matter or details the
publication of which would be calculated to
injure public morals;
(b) in relation to any judicial proceedings for
dissolution of marriage, for nullity of marriage,
or for judicial separation, any particulars other
than the following, that is to say:
(i) the names, addresses and occupations of
the parties and witnesses;
(ii) a concise statement of the charges,
defences and countercharges in support of
which evidence has been given;
(iii) submissions on any point of law arising in
the course of the proceedings, and the
decision of the Court thereon;
(iv) the judgment of the Court and observations
made by the Judge in giving judgment.
(3) Nothing in subsection (2) shall be held to permit the
publication of anything contrary to the provisions of
paragraph(a) of that subsection.
(4) Any proprietor, editor, master printer, or publisher
who acts in contravention of this section is, in respect of each
offence, liable on summary conviction to a fine of twenty
thousand dollars and to imprisonment for four months.
(5) Nothing in this section shall apply to the printing of
any pleading, transcript of evidence or other document for use in
connection with any judicial proceedings or communication to
persons concerned in the proceedings, or to the printing or
publishing of any notice or report in pursuance of the directions of
the Court; or to the printing or publishing of any matter in any
separate volume or part of any bona fide series of law reports which
does not form part of any other publication and consists solely of
report of proceedings in Courts of law, or in any publication of a
technical character bona fide intended for circulation among
members of the legal or medical professions.
14. (1) A fair and accurate report published in any newspaper
of the proceedings of a public meeting, or (except where neither
the public nor any newspaper reporter is admitted) of any meeting
of a council, board, or local authority formed or constituted under
the provisions of any written law or of any committee appointed by
any of the above-mentioned bodies, and the publication at the
request of any Government office or department of any notice or
report issued by them for the information of the public shall be
privileged, unless it is proved that the report or publication was
published or made maliciously.
(2) The protection intended to be afforded by this
section shall not be available as a defence in any proceedings if
it is proved that the defendant has been requested to insert in the
newspaper in which the report or other publication complained of
appeared a reasonable letter or statement by way of contradiction
or explanation of such report or other publication, and has
refused or neglected to insert the same.
(3) Nothing in this section—
(a) shall authorise the publication of any
blasphemous or indecent matter; or
(b) shall be deemed or construed to limit or abridge
any privilege now by law existing, or to protect
the publication of any matter not of public
concern and the publication of which is not for
the public benefit.
(4) For the purposes of this section “public meeting”
means any meeting bona fide and lawfully held for a lawful purpose,
and for the furtherance of discussion of any matter of public concern,
whether the admission thereto be general or restricted.
15. (1) It shall be competent for a Judge or the Court, upon an
application by or on behalf of two or more defendants in actions in
respect of the same, or substantially the same, libel brought by one
and the same person, to make an order for the consolidation of the
actions, so that they shall be tried together; and after the order has
been made, and before the trial of the actions, the defendants in any
new actions instituted in respect of the same, or substantially the
same, libel are also entitled to be joined in a common action upon
a joint application being made by the new defendants and the
defendants in the actions already consolidated.
(2) In a consolidated action under this section the Court shall
assess the whole amount of the damages (if any) in one sum, but a
separate verdict shall be taken for or against each defendant, in the
same way as if the actions consolidated had been tried separately; and
if the Court finds a verdict against the defendant or defendants in more
than one of the actions so consolidated, the Court shall proceed to
apportion the amount of damages so found between and against such
defendants; and the Judge at the trial, if he awards to the plaintiff the
costs of the action, shall also make such order as he considers just for
the apportionment of the costs between and against the defendants.
16. At the trial of an action for a libel contained in any
newspaper the defendant shall be at liberty to give in evidence in
mitigation of damages that the plaintiff has already recovered (or
has brought actions for) damages or has received or agreed to
receive compensation in respect of a libel or libels to the same
purport or effect as the libel for which the action has been brought.
17. No criminal prosecution shall be commenced against any
proprietor, publisher, printer, editor, or any person responsible for
the publication of a newspaper for any libel published therein
without the sanction of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
If you don’t have something nice to say…
Next time you post something online out of anger or frustration or whatever your reason, just be sure you understand that there might be consequences.
Precedence is now set in a landmark ruling that will see individuals fined for posting statements online that are considered libel or defamation, while knowing such statements to be false.
On February 15th, according to the Trinidad Express Newspaper:
“On Monday, Justice Frank Seepersad ruled that Jenelle Burke made a series of unsubstantiated libellous statements that caused the family to suffering “shame and embarrassment” since those statements were false and may have been seen by thousands.”
While no monetary figure was mentioned, the article in the express stated:
Justice Seepersad ruled that Burke pay to her victims damages and costs which shall be assessed by a Master in Chambers at a later date.
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