New era of Calypso begins: Checko to pay $130,000 for libel
Appeal Judges of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC) have upheld a defamation lawsuit of non-resident ambassador to Venezuela Dr. Philbert Aaron against police officer and calypsonian Abel "Checko" Jno Baptiste and they warn that the art of Calypso does not give persons the unfettered right to slander and defame individuals.
In a unanimous decision handed down on Tuesday February 14, 2017, Appeal Court Judges Paul Webster, Gertal Thom and Louise Blenman said that the accusations made by Checko against Dr. Aaron were "serious and very aggravating".
In 2011 Checko wrote and performed a Calypso entitled "Bug Her" and was sued by Dr. Aaron. Checko failed to file a defense and judgment in default was applied. The court awarded general damages of $75,000 for slander contained in the song published by the defendant during December 2011 to March 2012 in a Calypso tent, on radio, at the Semi-finals and Finals Calypso shows and during the road parade during carnival.
For aggravated damages Dr. Aaron was awarded $50,000 and a further $5,000 for exemplary damages on account of the re-mix of the song because of his desire to win the Road March title making a total of EC$130,000 plus cost that Checko has to pay.
At the ECSC hearing, Checko's lawyer Singoalla Blomqvist-Williams argued that while her client has accepted that the allegations were "serious", the amount awarded were "way off the scale compared to others and excessive in the circumstances."
She told the court her client had "apologized" and ought to have been given some "discount". Blomqvist -Williams explained to the court that it was a mere "Calypso" which was part of Dominica's culture and her client had tried his best to mask it but had done a poor job at it.
But the ECSC Judges were not amused stating that "we don't want to give people the license that because it is Calypso they can defame people". They also called the remix of the song which was done at the Calypso Finals "a very serious case of aggravation."
"He is a married man and a prominent person in society, Dominicans feel strongly against buggery, people have gotten killed… we have reviewed the submissions and authorities and have found no legal basis in law to interfere with the decision of the Learned Trial Judge. Accordingly the appeal is dismissed and the decision of the Trial Judge is affirmed," Justice of Appeal Blenman said.
Speaking to reporters outside the court house after the decision, Dr. Aaron, who was in the company of his wife, Government Press Secretary Kamala Jno Baptiste-Aaron said he felt vindicated.
"I feel vindicated and it's a message to Calypso and all communicators -do not make allegations for which you cannot provide evidence," he said.
He continued: "I think that those who are responsible in all ways, promoters, writers, singers, organizations, and legal representatives should come to terms with the reality of the law, that Calypso (does not give you the license to defame people) you need to have evidence for the claims you make against individuals."
"I think communication is the basis of a civilized society and especially of a democratic system and it is right and just that reputations that has been built with hard work and by expending of money should not be stolen and snatched with impunity…I hope it is a message that every member of society and especially of the organized groups that are responsible for communication of all forms, take note," Dr. Aaron said.