Former government minister and self-professed freelance social media journalist Devant Maharaj has filed his appeal on the dismissal of his lawsuit over being denied access to the Government’s virtual press conferences on the COVID-19 pandemic.
Maharaj’s legal team led by Senior Counsel Anand Ramlogan filed his notice of appeal two days after High Court Judge Kevin Ramcharan rejected Maharaj’s case on Wednesday.
The application for leave to appeal, a preliminary stage in the appeal process, is expected to come up for urgent electronic hearing, this morning.
In the notice of appeal, Maharaj’s legal team raised 25 grounds, in which they claimed that Ramcharan made several errors in his judgement that he (Maharaj) had not been discriminated against by Communications Minister Donna Cox as he is not a journalist.
“The court misdirected itself on the relevant issues in the case and was hence unduly and unnecessarily preoccupied with the question of whether the Appellant had established that he was a journalist in a vacuum without reference to the factual circumstances,” they said, in one of the grounds.
They also claimed that Ramcharan incorrectly classified Maharaj as a politician.
“The judge appeared to be fixated with the fact that Appellant described himself as a politician to such an extent that it blinded him to the fact that he was opting for form over substance as the real issue was whether the Appellant operated in a similar manner to the other ‘online voice,’” they said.
They took issue with Ramcharan’s rejection of Maharaj’s suggestion that he should be compared to social media personality Rhoda Bharath, whose participation in the virtual press conference was facilitated by Cox.
“The court was prepared to make inferences in favour of the Defendants to justify her inclusion as a journalist in the absence of any evidence from the Defendants to support same,” they said.
They also sought to address Ramcharan’s decision to highlight evidence from communications officials from several Government ministries, who sought to question Maharaj’s claims over his journalistic work based on his failure to attended press conferences they had organised in the past.
“None of these officials hinted far less stated that they were previously aware of Ms Bharath or any other non-traditional social media online voices such that they had included them at press conferences before,” they said.
In his 49-page judgment, Ramcharan also ruled that Cox did not breach Maharaj’s constitutional right to protection of the law by only considering and deciding on his application to participate, which was made on April 12 and 15, when the case came up for hearing, almost two weeks ago.
“In light of the prevailing circumstances, that is to say, the situation within which the country finds itself workload on Cabinet in general and the defendant in particular, it cannot be said that the decision was inordinately delayed,” Ramcharan said.
Maharaj is also being represented by Douglas Bayley, Ganesh Saroop, and Jared Jagroo. The State is being represented by Reginald Armour, SC, Vanessa Gopaul and Rishi Dass.