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Devant Maharaj

Derek Achong

Former government minister and self-professed freelance social media journalist Devant Maharaj has been granted leave to appeal the dismissal of his lawsuit over being denied access to the Government’s virtual press conferences on the COVID-19 pandemic.

While Appellate Judges Peter Rajkumar and Vasheist Kokaram gave Maharaj the green light to pursue his appeal in a virtual hearing, yesterday afternoon, they dismissed his application to have the appeal be deemed fit for urgent hearing.

They noted that State attorneys said that the press conference would continue for some time after the current public health regulations and restrictions expire and that Maharaj could be compensated financially if he is eventually successful on appeal.

Rajkumar and Kokaram gave the parties deadlines to file their submissions and stated that the appeal would come up for case management in October. A date for the hearing of the appeal is expected to be set at that hearing.

As Maharaj lost his application for an urgent hearing, he was ordered to pay the State’s legal costs for defending it.

In his notice of appeal, Maharaj’s legal team raised 25 grounds on which they claimed that High Court Judge Ramcharan made several errors in his judgment.

Ramcharan essentially ruled 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 and also 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.

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.

Maharaj is being represented by Anand Ramlogan, SC, Douglas Bayley, Ganesh Saroop and Jared Jagroo. Appearing for the State are Reginald Armour, SC, Vanessa Gopaul and Rishi Dass.