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25.12.2005 General News

National Democrat To Pay ¢500m For Libel

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The National Democrat, an Accra newspaper and its Editor, Mr Elliot Felix Ohene, are to pay ¢500,000,000 in damages for libelling the Director-General of the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority, Mr Ben Owusu-Mensah.

That followed an order by the Accra High Court, presided over by Mr Justice K. A. Ofori Atta. Mr Owusu-Mensah had prayed the court for punitive and aggravated damages against the defendants for publishing offensive and defamatory material about him in the Thursday, May 12 to Sunday, May 15, 2005 issue of the newspaper.

In the said publication, it was alleged that Mr Owusu-Mensah, who the paper claimed is the nephew of President J. A. Kufuor, had put up six plush houses for himself and his children within four years.

Although Felix Ohene was personally served with the writ of summons and also agreed to accept service on behalf the National Democrat, both defendants refused to enter appearance.

Interlocutory judgement in default was, therefore, entered on June 29, 2005 and the suit adjourned for assessment of damages.

The defendants were again served with hearing notices, but they failed to appear in court. In its judgement, the court observed that although the newspaper indicated in the publication its willingness for a fight in court to prove the allegations, none of the defendants bothered to enter an appearance.

According to the court, the defendants were deemed to have admitted the pleadings, having neglected to enter appearance.

It said the defendants did not have any belief in what they wrote about the plaintiff to be true, adding that “they published the article with the deliberate intention of injuring the plaintiff.”

According to the court, there was no doubt that the borders of freedom of expression had widened tremendously within the past few years.

“This, however, does not mean that anybody anywhere can just get up to say or write anything anyhow about others with impunity and think he can get away with it.

“The publication” has maligned the plaintiff and sought to portray him as greedy and avaricious. The plaintiff's wife and children have been adversely affected by the libellous publication. There is no doubt that the defendants were actuated by spite, ill will and malice,” the court emphasised.

The court also granted an order for perpetual injunction restraining the defendants from further publishing the said or similar words defamatory of the plaintiff.It further awarded plaintiff costs of ¢50 million.