Latour v Maillard (CS 120/2011 ) [2016] SCSC 54 (02 February 2016);

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF SEYCHELLES

Civil Side: 120/2011

[2016] SCSC 54

 

Jean-Pierre Marie Rene Latour                      

  PlaintifF

versus

    Robert Michel Maillard                              

Respondent

Heard:             22nd May 2014                             

Counsel:          Frank Ally for for the Plaintiff

                        Basil Hoareau for the Respondent

Delivered:       2nd February 2016            

 

JUDGMENT

M. TWOMEY, CJ

[1]               The Plaintiff, a Belgian/ German/ Seychellois national, filed a statement of claim against the Defendant, a French national, claiming that he had been defamed by the defendant on Tuesday 19th April 2011.

[2]               The particulars of the defamation as stated in the Plaint are that the Defendant spoke and published to one Xavier Heinen, the Honorary Consul of the Kingdom of Belgium the following words in French:

Jean-Pierre est quelqu’un de malhonnête et il m’a volé de l’argent.”

            The words translated into the English language mean “Jean-Pierre is someone who is dishonest and he has stolen my money.”

[3]               In his Plaint,the Plaintiff stated that the words in their natural and ordinary meaning or by innuendo meant that the Plaintiff was a fraudster, a dishonest person and a thief who had swindled the Defendant of his money or stolen the Defendant’s money and that they constituted a slander on the Plaintiff.

[4]               He further stated that the statements and defamatory imputations were made out of malevolence, animosity or personal spite towards the Plaintiff and made and calculated to impute conduct, disparage or degrade the Plaintiff as a Belgian national to a representative of the Kingdom of Belgium, and to affect the Plaintiff’s reputation and standing in Seychellois society and within the Belgian community of Seychelles.

[5]               The Plaintiff claimed damages in the sum of SR 1 million with costs.

[6]               The Defendant demurred and put the Plaintiff to strict proof of his statements.

[7]               The Plaintiff testified that he got to know Mr. Heinen since 2006 when he was a shareholder of ISPC and Mr. Heinen was the director of the company. He testified as tohis good standing in Seychellois society and how he had contributed to the economy, built his home in Seychelles and integrated into the community. He was used to receiving Belgian dignitaries in his home but that since the incident none had been brought to his home by Mr. Heinen.

[8]               In cross examination he also admitted that he was the owner of a bureau de change business and that Mr. Heinen was the manager of the business.

[9]               Mr. Heinen supported the evidence of the Plaintiff and testified as to the conversation with the Defendant in which the latter had spoken the alleged slanderous words. Mr. Heinen however testified that he was surprised by the words of the Defendant.

[10]           He also testified that he still visited the Plaintiff at his home as a friend.

[11]           The Defendant testified in his own defence. He denied stating the alleged slanderous words as reported by both the Plaintiff and his witness. He said there had been some difficulties when he and the Plaintiff had parted company in a coffee business they had together but that here had been no animosity between them.

[12]           The Parties were invited to file written submissions. These were not filed until October 2015 by Mr. Ally for the Plaintiff but no submission was ever filed by M.Hoareau for the Defendant.

[13]           At this stage of the proceedings de Silva J, the trial judge left the jurisdiction without delivering a decision in the matter. The Parties applied and were granted leave to have the proceedings and evidence adopted by myself. These were formally produced by the Deputy Registrar of the Supreme Court.  I proceeded to read the testimony of the witness as recorded on file and to study the documentary evidence.

[14]           The law of defamation of Seychellesas confirmed by Sauzier J in Esparon v Fernez and anor (1980) SLR 148 is as follows:

“Under article 1383 of the Civil Code of Seychelles, defamation is governed by the principles of English Law. The following are the relevant principles for this case:

1. A man commits the tort of defamation when he publishes to a third person words containing an untrue imputation against the reputation of another.

2. Words which impute to the plaintiff the commission of a crime for which he can be made to suffer corporally by way of punishment are actionable without proof of special damage.

3. A man, stating what he believes to be the truth about another, is protected in so doing, provided he makes the statement honestly and without any indirect or improper motive.”

[15]           In Biscornet v Honoré (1982) SLR 451, he expanded on what must be pleaded and proved in such cases. Where the words are stated in another language than the Court’s, the actual words in English must be proved by the Plaintiff unless the translation is accepted by the Defendant. As the translation was accepted by the Defendant in this case no further proof is required.

[16]           Having examined the evidence I am of the view that the Defendant did indeed publish the words as proven of the Plaintiff. The evidence of the Plaintiff is corroborated by that of Mr.Heinen. As the words uttered by the Defendant imputed a criminal offence to the Plaintiff no proof as to special damage is required. It is also clear that Mr. Heinen is a work colleague and friend of the Plaintiff.

[17]           There is however one basic and fatal flaw to the Plaintiff’s case. As was borne out by the authorities of Regar Publications v Pillay SCA3/1997 and Talma v Henriette (1999) SLR 108,  a defamatory statement is one injuring the reputation of another as it exposes them to hatred, contempt, ridicule or lower them in the estimation of right-thinking members of society.

[18]           The words published in this case were not believed by the only person it was published to. This is clear by the exchange between Mr. Hoareau and Mr. Heinen:

‘Q Tell me Mr. Heinen earlier when I put it to you whether Mr. Maillard told you those words against Mr. Latour and whether you believed him or not you said you did not believe him- correct?

A. Yes I could not believe him.

Q. So when he told you that you did not believe him correct?

A. Yes Mr. Maillard when he told me that I could not believe him”.

[19]           This is a case where although there is publication to a third party, the third party hearing the defamatory statement did not believe the statement. There was therefore no real or substantial wrong visited onto the Plaintiff and in the circumstances no injury, and so, no recourse for the Plaintiff.

[20]           In the circumstances I dismiss the Plaintiff’s action with costs.

 

Signed, dated and delivered at Ile du Port on 2nd February 2016.

 

M. TWOMEY

CHEIF JUSTICE