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What caused Sir Ugo Mifsud’s death

I refer to the letter by Gerald G. Bartoli (September 30) on the incident involving Sir Ugo Mifsud at a meeting of the Council of Government on February 9, 1942.

It is true that there is no specific medical evidence from which one can conclude that the heart attack suffered by Sir Ugo Mifsud in the midst of his speech was directly attributable to the interruptions by elected member Albert V. Bartoli. What is certain, however, is the fact that Mifsud was in a highly excited state as he felt that a great injustice was being done by the government of the day to exile without fair trial many innocent Maltese citizens on the pretence that they were a threat to the security of Malta during wartime.

At the very beginning of the debate in the Council, Sir Edward Jackson, the Lieutenant-Governor, tabled a declaration signed by the Governor on the need and urgency of passing in one sitting the Emergency Powers (Removal of Detained Persons) Bill. Sir Ugo Mifsud, the leader of the Nationalist Party, protested and asked that he be given “five or three minutes to read it”.

Ignoring this, the Lieutenant Governor presented the Bill and made a long speech defending it. Sir Ugo Mifsud rose immediately after and, unprepared as he was, delivered an equally long impromptu speech that remains even today an inspiration to all who read it. Indeed, Ercole Valenzia from the opposite side of the Council admitted soon after Mifsud had sat down that they had just “… heard a first class dissertation on Constitutional Law”.

In his speech Mifsud stated that “Britain made it a point that our liberties would be respected… liberties which are enjoyed by all free Englishmen – not to say the principles contained in the Magna Carta, and the principles, the unwritten principles, which constitute the unwritten law of England regarding the rights of the citizen. The citizen has rights which are recognised by custom and by usage and which have not and need not ever be incorporated in any written law. These are: the right of liberty; the right not to be condemned except by judgment of a competent court; the right not to be detained long in arrest; the right not to be extradited out of England.”

As regards a war situation, he said: “On the occasion of imminent war, or the possibility of imminent war, the Parliament of England… passed an Act for the defence and safety of the realm and of the Empire, and by that Act they imposed limitations on the liberty of the subjects. They thus permitted the Executive to exercise the right of arrest or detention of individuals even without trial, but they went no further; they did not give in England the right to extradite British citizens…”

Bartoli interrupted Mifsud a number of times by making short mocking interventions. This disturbed Mifsud to such an extent that, uncharacteristic of his known gentlemanly manners, he turned towards Bartoli and angrily told him: “There is nothing to laugh at, Mr Bartoli! I hope you can understand the strength of my argument”. A few minutes later Mifsud was visibly ill. He uttered his last cry before sitting down half-way through his speech: “I pray God that recriminations like these which leave an indelible mark on our history will not happen in Malta. I am feeling ill ….”

Sir Ugo Mifsud died five days later at his home in Villa Preziosi, Lija, at the age of 52. He paid with his life for his heroic stand in the Council.

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