Grenada’s four year old government of Prime Minister Tillman Thomas has carried out one of its electoral promises to remove criminal libel from the island’s law books.
As part of the amendment to the Criminal Code, Criminal Libel has been taken off the Law Books, effective September 14.
The effect of the move is that local Journalists can continue to ply their trade, free from the threat of facing Criminal Libel from politicians.
However, Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Christopher Nelson told THE NEW TODAY newspaper that if there is a Criminal Libel case pending before September 14, it remains alive.
Sections 252 and 253 that dealt with both Intentional and Negligent Criminal Libel have been repealed.
According to DPP Nelson if Journalists intentionally or negligently libel someone, they cannot be criminally prosecuted based on the changes to the Criminal Code that was initiated by the governing National Democratic Congress (NDC) administration.
However, the DPP disclosed that civil consequences would still be another avenue for someone who has been libeled to get at Journalists.
He warned that the removal of Criminal Libel on the Law Books is not “an open season” for Journalists to print any information in their possession without verifying it.
DPP Nelson said the job of the Journalists is to inform and not to misinform and they still need to be careful as they have a duty and obligation to verify what is reported.
“That responsibility still remains, and the civil sanction is still there,” he stressed.
“Check, double check and recheck. Make sure that what you put out is accurate, is correct, unless it is an opinion,” he added.
The DPP spoke of the general law on libel that is between private parties being still intact, and according to him would not change.
“It is in the same way that somebody damages your goods or your property, you can sue them, it is the same way you damage someone’s reputation they can sue you. But the object of the legal proceedings in civil is a compensation or probably injunction. The object of the criminal sanction was for punishment,” he said.
The penalty for intentional libel carried a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment, while negligent libel was six months.
The last known case of criminal libel in Grenada was instituted by former Special Prosecutor, Hugh Wildman of Jamaica on behalf of former Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Mitchell against Editor of the defunct GRENADA TODAY newspaper.
The case was taken off the court list by DPP Nelson after Dr. Mitchell repeatedly failed to appear in court before then Chief Magistrate, Patricia Mark to be cross-examined by local attorney-at-law, Anselm Clouden.
The Chief Magistrate was forced to demit office after she allegedly refused to bow to demands to cut short the cross examination by Clouden and send the matter up to the high court for trial before a judge and jury.