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Naxxar trade fair group to sue government

"Lawsuit will run into the hundreds of thousands"

A section of the trade fair grounds, unused for years.

A section of the trade fair grounds, unused for years.

The organisers of the old Naxxar Trade Fair are planning to sue the government for "hundreds of thousands" of euros in loss of revenue after a court confirmed they were denied an operating licence abusively.

Trade Fair Exhibitors Association Limited director Anthony Galea said the company was in discussions with its lawyers over the compensation claim.

He refused to quantify the claim, although he said it was safe to say the suit would run into "hundreds of thousands" of euros in loss of revenue.

"The experts will determine the exact amount," he said.

The compensation claim comes on the strength of an appeals court judgement that confirmed that the fair should have been given a licence to operate in 2010.

The land in Naxxar, at the back of Palazzo Parisio, had been used by the Malta Trade Fairs Corporation for almost 50 years, between 1958 and 2006, but no other fairs were held there when the ground rent expired.

Eventually, the Trade Fair Exhibitors Association took over the lease and applied to hold a fair there again in 2010. In the meantime, the annual event had shifted to Ta' Qali and the director of the Trade Services Department refused to grant another licence.

A legal battle ensued, ended by Mr Justice Raymond Pace's ruling in favour of the association.

Back in 2010, when the battle first began, Mr Justice Giannino Caruana Demajo ordered the director of trade services to consider the application for a licence to hold the trade fair within four days. However, the director refused to issue the licence and the company went to the Licensing Appeals Board.

In June last year, the board also found in favour of the company with board chairman Austin Sammut ruling that the Naxxar Trade Fair grounds were licensed premises for the holding of trade fairs.

He ruled that the company's application for a licence had been refused without valid reason at law.

The director argued t hat he had discretionary powers to decide upon the issue of a licence after seeing what impact it could have on the environment and on the implementation of public policy.

He said that the Central Malta Local Plan of 2006 stipulated that, in the event that the Trade Fair activity ceased to operate in Naxxar, the planning authority would not allow the continued use of the site as a venue where to hold the Malta Trade Fair.

The Licensing Appeals Board found that the director was not entitled to deal with issues that were supposed to be regulated by the planning authority.

In fact, it declared null and void the director's decision not to issue the licence.

The director appealed Dr Sammut's decision and, in his judgement, Mr Justice Pace referred to the ruling by Mr Justice Caruana Demajo to criticise the director of trade services for ignoring a court ruling.

He said the manner in which the director had ignored the previous court judgement was "a dangerous precedent that would undermine the authority of the courts and the rule of law".

"No court could allow this to happen on the basis that this would erode the concept of democracy and the upholding of fundamental and ordinary rights." The decision of the Appeals Board was, the court said, correct, as it clearly resulted that the Trade Fair grounds were licensed. The fact that the grounds had been used for electoral purposes for some years was irrelevant.

Questions sent to the Ministry for Fair Competition, Small Business and Consumers, which is politically responsible for the trade services division, remained unanswered by the time of writing.

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