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Court confirms libel award on Ciro Del Negro book

A judgment of the First Hall of the Civil Court whereby journalist Joe Mifsud was ordered to pay Lm800 in libel damages to Sandra Sladden (formerly Caruana) has been upheld by the Court of Appeal composed of Chief Justice Vincent Degaetano, Mr Justice Joseph D. Camilleri and Mr Justice Joseph A. Filletti.

Sladden had claimed in her writ that she had been libelled by the book entitled Id-Djarju ta' Ciro Del Negro written by Mifsud and published by the Malta Labour Party's information department in 1997.

Sladden's claim was upheld by the First Hall of the Civil Court which awarded her Lm800 in damages.

On appeal filed by Mifsud, the Court of Appeal declared that the judgment of the First Hall of the Civil Court was valid and correct and was not to be overturned.

Mifsud had based his appeal on his claim of qualified privilege in terms of the Press Act, as he claimed that he was exempt from penalties for libel in cases where the publication consisted in a precise report of a speech at a public event and where the publication was reasonably justified in a democratic society.

It resulted from an examination of the publication that Mifsud had quoted allegations made against Sladden, in her professional capacity, by Ciro Del Negro.

These allegations concerned Sladden's professional behaviour in a court case that was of a private and personal nature concerning the custody of one of Del Negro's children.

The alleged scope of the book written by Mifsud was that of shedding new light upon drug trafficking in Malta.

This, said the Court of Appeal, was definitely a matter of huge public interest.

The same could not be said about the custody case involving Del Negro's child nor about his personal separation proceedings in court.

Sladden had therefore been mentioned in the book in connection with a private incident that was not of public interest.

Although Mifsud had apologised to Sladden in a sworn statement made in 2000, the Court of Appeal noted that this apology was qualified and was filed two years after the publication.

The judgment of the First Hall of the Civil Court was therefore confirmed in its entirety by the Court of Appeal.

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