Former minister gets €5,000 in damages after defamatory press release

Sentence confirmed by Court of Appeal

A press release issued by the GRTU against former Minister Michael Falzon regarding his testimony in criminal proceedings against Malta Developers Association president Sandro Chetcuti was confirmed as being defamatory by a court of appeal.

Michael Falzon had filed libel proceedings against Vince Farrugia and Paul Abela as director general and president respectively of the GRTU following the issue of the press release on February 27, 2014.

The press release entitled 'GRTU rebuts claims made by ex-GRTU officers Mark Saliba and Joe Tabone and ex-Minister Michael Falzon in court' was about the testimony given by Mr Falzon in criminal proceedings against Sandro Chetcuti regarding an incident between the latter and Mr Farrugia.

During a meeting between the Finance Minister and the MDA, Mr Falzon had allegedly witnessed an incident between Mr Farrugia and Mr Chetcuti.

After testifying about this in court, the GRTU had issued the said press release stating that "the director general will take all necessary action in relation to the erroneous and misleading assertions made, possibly constituting perjury, especially regarding the meetings referred to by Perit Michael Falzon that could not have possibly been held as stated by Mr Falzon.....

Other fallacious allegations and insinuations made by Mr Tabone, Mr Saliba and Perit Michael Falzon will be rebutted in court by virtue of witnesses and documented evidence as being false and fabricated for their ulterior motives”.

This statement was declared to be defamatory by a magistrate's court, which condemned Mr Farrugia and Mr Abela to the payment of €5,000 jointly in damages.

The Court of Appeal, presided by Mr Justice Anthony Ellul, observed that the respondents had not raised the plea of fair comment and had not put forward evidence to prove the alleged falsity of Mr Falzon's testimony in court.

Moreover, it was observed that the press release was issued while criminal proceedings against Mr Chetcuti were still ongoing.

"The respondents had no right to say whatever they willed about the applicant," without supporting their declaration, the court concluded, confirming the defamatory nature of the statement to the media and ordering Mr Farrugia and Mr Abela to pay €5,000 in damages to Mr Falzon.