BELIZE CITY, Mon. Oct. 24, 2016–Supreme Court Justice Shona Griffith handed down a ruling in a defamation claim brought by the government’s Chief Pharmacist, Sharon Anderson, against former Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Health Dr. Peter Allen for remarks that were made at a Ministry of Health press conference on May 9, 2014, that the court found were malicious.
Justice Griffith promised that the written judgment will be ready in a few weeks. Anderson, represented by attorney Herbert Panton, was awarded damages of $5,000. Anderson’s claim, however, was for $20,000 in damages.
In the first quarter of 2014, the CEO in the Ministry of Health, Dr. Peter Allen, came under pressure from the Public Service Union for the appointment of Minister Erwin Contreras’ daughter, Danini Contreras, to the post of Director of Drug Inspectorate, a post for which she was not seen to be academically qualified; neither did she have the working experience to fill the post.
The Minister’s daughter, along with two others, was given authority to approve the entry of pharmaceuticals through the Customs Department.
That, however, was a responsibility for the Chief Pharmacist, who was on sick leave, but who was still signing the Customs documentation.
The animosity between the CEO Allen and the Chief Pharmacist soon began to spread in the Ministry of Health, and soon it began to be mentioned by Ministry of Health personnel that Chief Pharmacist Anderson was on strike.
The rumors did not just stop inside the Ministry of Health. At a press conference that was held on May 9, 2014, the erroneous information about Anderson being on strike was mentioned at the press conference by Dr. Allen.
Internally, the Procurement Manager had written on April 11, that, “It is my understanding that Mrs. Sharon Anderson is on strike and refusing to sign supplies – this could seriously endanger the health of our patients.”
In response, CEO Allen had stated that Anderson was “holding the system to ransom.”
In her ruling, Justice Griffith found that there was malice in Dr. Allen’s statement.
In terms of the $5,000 in damages that the judge awarded to his client, Panton said that all the rulings for the most recent cases in Belize hovered around the $30,000 mark. He explained that the learned justice refused to look at the statement that was made at the press conference.
Panton said that the judgment can be appealed, but he doesn’t think that he will appeal the decision.
The defense that Dr. Allen relied on was qualified privilege. The judge found, however, that there was malice, so that privilege could not shield the defendants.
Deputy Solictor General, Nigel Hawke, represented the government.