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Armier evictions | Boathouse lobby plays down effects of court judgement

Court decrees that Armier boathouses were illegally built, occupants have no land title and orderd commissioner of lands to evict them.

Chris Mangion
28 June 2013, 12:00am

The Armier boathouse lobby has yet to see whether it will appeal a sensational court ruling that has declared the construction of 12 boathouses built on public land in the environs of the Armier bay, illegal.

Judge Anthony Ellul declared today that a written communication exchanged between the government and Armier Developments Ltd, the company representing the Armier boathouse 'squatters', was not deemed to be a binding contract, ordering the illegal constructions to be immediately evicted.

Ellul today held that the caravans and illegal constructions at Armier were built on public land and very close to the foreshore. "Any transfer of public land has to be carried out in terms of law and the foreshore cannot be privatised... Transfer of land on shores for the building of caravans can only be by title of rent for less than 10 years."

The director of Armier Developments, Tarcisio Barbara, said his lobby has yet to see whether it will appeal the court judgement.

"The decision concerned 12 illegal constructions on the Armier perimeter which the former Mellieha mayor deemed that they had to be removed. The Lands Department proceeded with an eviction notice, which we first managed to stop with a prohibitory injunction, and later we filed a court case challenging the decision," Barbara said.

But Barbara felt that the decision should not necessarily prejudice the agreements the lobby had already secured with the Nationalist and Labour parties.

"They may not be contracts, but they are letters of intent. And there are many properties predating 1967, which were constructed from concessions granted to their owners. Now we are trying to find a solution to have them regulated."

Barbara said that the court sentence should not necessarily apply to all the Armier boathouses. "It depends on what type of structure it is and where it is built. This judgement only concerns 12 buildings."

In April 2003, the Nationalist government had proposed a temporary emphyteusis for 65 years for the boathouses against payment of Lm15,700. The agreement included the construction of a minimum of 500 units for new dwellers who did not occupy a caravan or boathouse in the area. In 2007, then leader of the Opposition Alfred Sant confirmed that the agreement would be honoured. A year later, then prime minster Gonzi declared that the April 2003 letter was binding on the government. The proposal also said that boathouses built prior to 1992 would not be demolished. Armier Developments had also said that Joseph Muscat had confirmed an agreement originally reached in 2002 with Labour MP Joe Mizzi.

But the court heard the Commissioner of Lands say that for years the public land was used without authorisation and none of the occupants had paid any sort of rent or compensation to the government.

After the Commissioner of Lands commenced eviction proceedings, Armier Developments Ltd filed a court application requesting that the eviction order is declared null and unenforceable. They also claimed an agreement with the government in 2003 gave them legal title of land. Enemalta also provided water and electricity services to these constructions, with ADL telling the court that this had legalised the residents' right over the land.

But the court replied that this fact raises a number of questions, and that a miscarriage of one public entity does not automatically legalise the illegal constructions.

Importantly, the court concluded that a proposal letter could not be deemed a binding contract. "The parties were still conducting negotiations. The letter was a proposal," the judge said. The 2007 and 2008 confirmations were not legally binding either as nobody can occupy public land without any right or legal title.

Constructions at Little Armier on public land were illegal and caravan occupants had no legal title to the land, Mr Justice Anthony Ellul said, rejecting the application of Armier Development Ltd and giving the green light for the Commissioner of Lands to go ahead with the eviction order.


Green party Alternattiva Demokratika welcomed the ruling. Carmel Cacopardo, deputy chairman AD, said the party had during the past years campaigned actively for the demolition of the Armier shantytown. "The issue even formed part of AD's electoral manifesto for the March 2013 general elections. The land next to the sea should be accessible to all and not to a select few. As the minister responsible for the Lands Department,Joseph Muscat should call in the demolition people next Monday."

On his part, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat declined to comment on the court decree. Asked to comment, Muscat said it would be "premature" to express any views before he had read the full sentence. He said that given the sentence was not at appeals stage, the concerned individuals could still take the necessary steps.
Chris Mangion is MaltaToday’s photojournalist, joining the newspaper in 2013.

In 1995...

Michele Xuereb
I take exception to the term "squatters" appearing in inverted commas in this article. By definition a squatter is an individual who settles on the land of another person without any legal authority to do so or without acquiring a legal title, and is applied particularly to those who settle on public land. Once this is the situation with the Armier huts (boathouses are for boats, which is not the case in point), then the "owners" (this, on the contrary, is where inverted commas can and should be used) are nothing more than squatters.
Dora Buttigieg
If MaltaToday is really interested in the comments submitted by its readers, it should not take over 12 hours to clear comments, as otherwise such comments will become history.
Whilst this judgment is most welcome I cannot understand why everyone is doing the dance of joy at this ?As this fair ruling only actually scratches the surface as it only effects TWELVE (12) -yes count them -caravans .
bernardette azzopardi
Now that is good news! Thanks your honour. Your judgement belittles political promises that defend squatters. I'm sure law abiding Maltese will be ever thankful. Unbrella.
C Zammit
@L. Sammut You missed some very important elements in the article: 1) But the court heard the Commissioner of Lands say that for years the public land was used without authorisation and none of the occupants had paid any sort of rent or compensation to the government. 2)The judge said, "a miscarriage of one public entity does not automatically legalise the illegal constructions." They should be bulldozed out!
So all this malarkey only concerns TWELVE BOATHOUSES or Caravans -what about the rest ?
Nunya Buzniss
The day after this court decision is not respected I will go to Armier and build little shack for myself on public land. I'll refrain from building a villa like the others have. If the MEPA leaves the others to enjoy their villa, they should let me enjoy my little shack too. No?
Joseph Grech-Attard
Shanty towns like Armier and many other places are all illegal. Illegality has no exceptions. It is not ethics or morality. Governments who have previously given permits to squatters in such areas have done wrong. This is not a matter of social policy. It is not true that such illegal shanty homes belong to the poor! PL and PN should confront such a national problem together, so as nobody loses votes!! What has been happening is that both parties have closed eyes to squatting when in power. This makes them both incredible, at least on such matters, as well as accomplices to illegalities. How can they, then, promote stability and justice?
L-Imqareb .
Its a step towards JUSTICE. If these people have a right then all other Maltese and Gozitans have the same right because now "Malta hija Taghna ilkoll"
Michael Farrugia
When will the commissioner of Lands act??
Dora Buttigieg
Squatters should pay for the use they made and continue to make of public land. They should be fined if they do not have the required permits, no matter what leaders of political parties commit themselves to just before elections. The Maltese public pays taxes through his nose for the upkeep of public infrustructure and no single person has the right to use anything which is public without impunity. Eviction is not enough. Otherwise I just might as well build in the middle of the road and block any counter action by the competent authorities by submitting a prohibitory injunction!! What non sense have we been accustomed to over the past two to three decades.
Alex Grech
Prosit Judge Anthony my opinion you gave a lesson to future generations.
Do excuse my haste in congratulating Justice Ellul. I did not read L.Sammut's comment below. Please note that the fact that they consumed services made available by certain Departments, even when they had no legal title to the land that they constructed their hovels on, should not exonerate them from paying for these services. So no refund is due. On the contrary, these land robbers should be made to clean up all the area and restore it to its pristine condition at their own expense. Also they should be made to pay a penalty which would be equal to the rental value of a studio apartment located in the best areas. And this from the day they illegally told hold of the land in question. Certainly these land robbers should never be REWARDED for misappropriating public land!!!
WELL DONE!! the boathouses are illegal,so they must ''GO'', very well done to the judge for his ruling!!!
philip vickers
about time, these squatters were evicted, the shore should be enjoyed by all. Will they then return it to public use ? no concessions for umbrella's and beds, Hope the political parties back this and finally demolish this shanty town
gerry camilleri
@L.Sammut What are you talking about? With all due respect your arguement makes no sense. Whatever Enemalta provided them with is irrelevant if Armier Developments ltd. do not have documentation of ownership of the land they occupy then they are there illegally and should be driven out by the authorities. If they have consumed electricity and water why should they get a refund? they have only paid what they have consumed.
Prosit Justice Ellul. This responsible judgement must surely enjoy the backing of all law abiding Maltese citizens/voters!!!
Edward Fenech
@L Sammut: So, you think it is fair and reasonable to ask the Maltese people, who had given up without consent, for decades, access to land that was for the use of all so that it could be used exclusively by a small group of societal leeches, to now to actually PAY the people that stole the use of this land for the utilities that they have used to heat, cool, or water themselves? What on earth makes you think the world owes these people anything? What a perverse outlook. Fortunately this judge is helping dismantle the absurd and illegal remnants of a backward time. I await the inevitable, inane protestations of whichever politician has had their palms greased by these thieves with interest. No, actually, I don't.
Joseph Lawrence Sammut Clleja
I hate to contradict the Judge but if these boathouses are illegal, who gave the permission to hook up the electricity,the water and the sewer. These three connections need government approval, so who in the government approved any of these connections to these boat houses? Most of these people have been paying for these government services and if these boathouses are illegal in the first place the judge should order the government to issue a refund on the money these houseboat owners paid the government.
Dr Anthony Abela Medici
eugene sapiano
The year was 1984 and I was interested to buy a room at St Thomas Bay but on taking legal advice I gave up the idea ; I was told they were not covered by a permit and when talking to an owner of another building he told me that I should have proceeded and when asking him who was his notary he burst out laughing. Today I realise how right I was!
Jien u kull min jghozz il-Haqq u jqim il-Gudikatura, ibusulek idejk sur Imhallef
Jien u kull min jghozz il-Haqq u jqim il-Gudikatura, ibusulek idejk sur Imhallef
Louis Fenech
Good for the Judge. And such matters should be passed over the judiciary so that no political motivation is involved.
Nigel Lawrence
BRAVO. About time too.
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