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Woman’s human rights breached in land case

A woman has been awarded €50,000 in damages by the European Court of Human Rights which found that her right to enjoyment of property had been violated after the Government failed to compensate her for land expropriated 37 years ago.

Victoria Vassallo filed her claim against the Government before the court in 2009.

She told the court that she owned one-eleventh of land which had been expropriated by the Government in 1974, at a time when the land was deemed to be agricultural.

No use had been made of the land by the authorities for 28 years and Ms Vassallo had not received any compensation for the expropriation.

An offer of compensation was made by the Government in 1999. But Ms Vassallo said that she ought to be compensated for the present day value of the land and not the value at the time of the expropriation. Her architect valued the land at between €1,281,155 and €1,397,624 while the government submitted that the land was worth €47,400.

In its judgment the European Court said the difference in the two valuations was striking, for Ms Vassallo’s architect had valued the land at sixteen times more that the Government’s architect.

Given this discrepancy the court ruled that little value could be placed on what appeared to be subjective valuations unaccompanied by any detailed reports.

The court found that the expropriation of the land was not unlawful. It was the fact that the expropriated land had remained unused for 28 years and that Ms Vassallo had not received any compensation for the expropriation of the property after 37 years had elapsed that was at the origin of the violation of Ms Vassallo’s fundamental human right to enjoyment of property.

The court found in favour of Ms Vassallo and awarded her €50,000 in damages.

The court added that in assessing the amount of compensation it had considered information available to it on land values on the Maltese property market today.

Lawyers José Herrera and David Camilleri appeared for Ms Vassallo.

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