Politicians filed a record number of criminal libel suits last year, just as the two big parties pledged to look into reviewing the law.

The 36 cases filed by MPs, unelected politicians and other political functionaries made up 70 per cent of all criminal libel proceedings in 2014. This was about 20 per cent more than the usual number of libel suits filed by politicians.

Justice Minister Owen Bonnici said that he was reviewing the laws under which libel could be considered a criminal offence. Ironically, Dr Bonnici was among those who instituted criminal libel proceedings against a journalist last year.

Two other ministers – Konrad Mizzi and Leo Brincat – filed five criminal libel cases between them last year.

Nationalist Party leader Simon Busuttil initiated four libel suits and the PN’s foreign affairs spokesman, Tonio Fenech, filed two.

The majority of the cases, 60 per cent, were filed against journalists, the rest against politicians.

There are two types of libel suits: civil and criminal.

In civil cases, two parties thrash things out against one another. The complainant will be in pursuit of monetary damages to a maximum of about €11,000.

Criminal proceedings, on the other hand, see the defendant face the police in a court of law, with the maximum penalty being a €1,000 fine and/or up to a year in prison.

The complainant, however, does not receive any monetary compensation in criminal cases. Because of this, many of those filing criminal cases also initiate civil proceedings in the hope of winning some form of compensation. 

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