From left: Marc Bean, Craig Cannonier and David Burt *File photos
From left: Marc Bean, Craig Cannonier and David Burt *File photos

If the Premier presses ahead with a slander lawsuit against two PLP politicians, the case could hinge on e-mails and messages, or lack thereof, according to a legal expert.

Lawyer Tim Marshall said many slander cases are concluded by both sides reaching a quiet settlement “without anyone really knowing it”.

There has been nothing quiet about the ongoing political and now legal rumble that has high-ranking members of the OBA and PLP at loggerheads.

 But in this case, if the legal battle does in fact go the distance, it could drag on for at least a year and the costs would be significant. Mr Marshall speculated legal expenses could run into six figures. The legal action, however, will not be funded with taxpayer dollars.

After indicating earlier this week that the suit would use government funds, the Premier’s office reversed course last night. Through a statement, the Premier indicated “after taking further legal advice” the costs of his legal action will not be paid with public funds.

The allegations against the Premier, made by Opposition Leader Marc Bean, suggest bribes were on offer for a gambling licence. We reported on the claims extensively in our paper on Wednesday. 

The Premier has rejected Mr Bean’s assertions. 

Shadow Finance Minister David Burt alleges he was offered an IT contract for his company if he supported the OBA’s move to scrap a casino gambling referendum. 

Earlier this week, the Premier announced he would be suing both men for slander. Slander is defamation in transitory form, which usually means oral statements, whereas libel is defamation published in a permanent form, such as a written statement.

The plaintiff, which in this case would be the Premier, typically has to show how comments or statements were defamatory — that they harmed his reputation in the eyes of the community in some way.

The defendants, who in this case would be Opposition Leader Marc Bean and Shadow Finance Minister David Burt, will need to establish that the comments were true on a balance of probabilities.

The PLP side could also look at possible public interest defences — arguments that assert it was in the public’s interest to know about the Premier’s alleged conversations with the two men.

Mr Marshall suggests the case might boil down to whether or not Mr Burt and Mr Bean’s statements are true. And that question could hinge on the discovery process — the phase of the litigation where lawyers can request certain documents such as e-mails or texts. 

If there are e-mails or texts from Mr Bean and Mr Burt that back up their statements — for example, if they corresponded with a colleague shortly after their alleged meetings with the Premier and detailed the proceedings of the meetings — that could help decide the case, Mr Marshall told us.

But he was quick to add: “It’s hard to really know how this will end up. This is going to be a type of litigation that is going to be a huge distraction for Bermuda. That might be a factor. Once everybody’s tempers settle down, the litigation may not proceed.”

If that doesn’t happen, the suit could drag on for a year or more, he said.

“One statement is accusing the country’s Premier of being corrupt. That may in and of itself suggest this litigation might go all the way,” he said.