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Property owners angry as new law 'reverses court judgement'

Proposed law 'making a mockery of the judiciary and the rule of law”.

The owners of the De Paule band club in Paola have slammed a Bill protecting clubs from court-ordered evictions as “making a mockery of the judiciary and the rule of law”.

“The government intends to pass legislation effectively requisitioning these premises without providing adequate compensation,” Maurice Zarb Adami, one of the owners, told The Sunday Times of Malta.

The same proposed law, soon to have its second reading in Parliament, also drew the criticism of former Chamber of Advocates president Reuben Balzan, who said it was “totally unacceptable for any government to propose a law reversing a court judgment”.

In April, the owners of the building housing the De Paule band won back possession of the premises after a 20-year court battle, when an appeals court upheld a decision ordering the club to vacate the property due to structural works carried out without the owners’ consent.

However, a week later, Justice and Culture Minister Owen Bonnici said the government would be intervening to ensure that the band club would not lose its premises.

The proposed law will allow band clubs to continue occupying their premises even after their eviction has been ordered by a court as long as they pay a rent 10 times higher than they were paying before the eviction order, up to a maximum of one per cent of the property’s value.

It also blocks court-ordered evictions altogether when structural alterations carried out without the owners’ consent – previously grounds for eviction –are done for philharmonic or social purposes, and as long as the club offers a guarantee to allow the owners to restore the property at the end of the lease.

Dr Zarb Adami said the rent the owners of the De Paule band club would be entitled to did not reflect the real value of the property.

“This proposed legislation is intrinsically and fundamentally, legally, politically and morally incorrect as it rewards persons who breach the nation’s own laws,” Dr Zarb Adami said. “It is also discriminatory as it singles out a section of society and through specific legislation, disadvantages only this section.”

Dr Zarb Adami said the type of action envisaged by the Bill was unconstitutional and had repeatedly been condemned by the European Court of Human Rights, adding that it “supplants the judiciary’s role through ‘ad hoc’ instant legislation, making the country’s laws which govern the people’s interaction unpredictable, conflicting and irrisory.”

He said his family was willing to sell the premises at a fair price and would consider the band club as preferred bidders, but were not willing to forego a family heirloom.

He called on MPs – and failing that, the President – to recognise the Bill as contrary to the Constitution and the rule of law, and said the owners were prepared to take further legal action to protect their rights.

Dr Balzan, the former Chamber of Advocates president, also took aim at the Bill, insisting the government could not introduce legislation nullifying the effects of a court judgment, or denying rights that had been confirmed by a court.

He described the proposed law as “manifestly unfair” as it failed to achieve a balance between the rights of the tenant and the owner.

“If the government decides as a matter of public policy that band clubs deserve special status because of their social importance, it needs to find a solution that doesn’t harm the owner,” Dr Balzan said. “You cannot breach rights confirmed by a court for the sake of popularity.”

Responding to the criticism, a spokesman for the Justice and Culture Ministry insisted the issue had to be seen “in the perspective of [band clubs’] social and cultural importance”.

The spokesman added that, traditionally, courts did not evict a club from its rented premises on the grounds of it having made structural alterations if the club could guarantee that it would reinstate the premises at the end of the lease.

He said that the Bill would also grant increased compensation to owners and allow them to contest situations which may be disproportionate.

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