THE Lusaka High Court has dismissed a preliminary issue by News Diggers and the Environmental Investigative Agency (EIA) in which they asked it to throw out Justice Minister Given Lubinda, his Lands counterpart Jean Kapata and Tasila Lungu’s defamation claim in the “Mukula Cartel” case.
News Diggers and the EIA wanted the matter dismissed on grounds that the Statement of Claim by Lubinda, Kapata and Tasila failed to outline the exact defamatory words contained in the articles complained about, and it therefore did not state the cause of action.
But in her ruling, Tuesday, High Court Judge Pixie Yangailo said the preliminary issue was without merit as the originating process disclosed a cause of action.
In this matter, Lubinda, Kapata and President Edgar Lungu’s daughter Tasila have sued News Diggers Media Limited, its editor Mukosha Funga and the EIA in the Lusaka High Court, demanding damages for libel.
The three sued Funga, News Diggers Media Limited and EIA as first, second and third Defendants respectively, in connection to a story on illegal Mukula trade which was published in News Diggers! and derived from an EIA report.
They are seeking an order of interim and permanent injunction, restraining Funga, News Diggers and EIA from publishing similar articles and opinions relating to them.
The three are also seeking damages against all the Defendants for libel contained in News Diggers’ edition of December 6, last year, titled “Lungu, Tasila in Mukula cartel” as well as damages against EIA for libel contained in its publication of December 2019, titled “Mukula cartel how timber trafficking networks plunder Zambian forests”.
When the matter came up for hearing of injunction application in chambers on Friday, lawyers representing the Defendants took issue with the format of the Statement of Claim.
Mutembo Nchito State Counsel who is representing the EIA, in the company of Chisuwo Hamwela, Nkandu Chibuye, Mable Chakoleka; and Musa Mwenye State Counsel who is a lawyer for News Diggers and Funga, asked the court to strike out the case because the statement of claim was faulty and did not follow the rules of court.
The Defendants, through their lawyers, told the court that although they intended to plead justification and fair comment on a matter of public interest, they were at a loss finding the specific words which the Plaintiffs found defamatory as the Statement of Claim did not explain.
But the Plaintiffs’ lawyer, Bonaventure Mutale State Counsel, submitted that the issue raised was misconceived and should be dismissed.
He anchored his submission on order 2, rule 2 of the rules of the Supreme Court which he contended that it provides that an application of that nature could only be entertained if the applicant had not taken a fresh step.
Mutale added that having filed affidavits in opposition, the defendants should be deemed to have waived their rights to challenge the application.
And in her ruling delivered in chambers, justice Yangailo noted that the record showed that the plaintiffs’ action was indeed a defamation suit.
She said in their statement of claim, the plaintiffs had reproduced 11 articles that they alleged to be libellous and had further mentioned the persons allegedly defamed.
Justice Yangailo added that the plaintiffs had further stated the effects of those words complained of on them and what, in their view, the right thinking person might construe the words to mean.
“One might argue that the plaintiffs’ statement of claim could have been couched in more happy terms, but this difference in style alone does not amount to a legal deficiency in the light of the law referred to on this point, in the view taken by this court,” she said.
Judge Yangailo found that the originating process disclosed a cause of action and further dismissed the preliminary issue and awarded costs to the plaintiffs.
“The preliminary issue as adopted and concurred to by the first and second defendants is without merit and is therefore dismissed. Costs for this application are for the plaintiffs to be taxed in default of agreement,” she ruled.
Judge Yangailo granted leave to appeal and further directed the defendants to enter appearance and file their respective defences, if any, within 14 days from the date of the ruling.
She added that “the matter is returnable for hearing of the inter parte application for interim injunction on March 19, 2020.”