Court turns down damages case due to lack of evidence

The magistrates court rejected a request to award damages because it was not morally convinced that the defendant had misappropriated money at his job. 

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Malcolm Mifsud
30 January 2015, 8:00am
This was decided by Magistrate Gabriella Vella on 19 January, 2015 in Chris Gerada and Mario Difesa in their capacity of president and secretary of the White Taxi Association -v- Joseph Bonnici.

The White Taxi Association filed an application against Josef Bonnici asking the Magistrates’ Court to condemn Bonnici for damages and to pay Lm2,259 (€5,262.05). The association explained that Bonnici was its employee and that he had collected money from coupons he sold to tourists but failed to hand over the money he had collected.

Bonnici rebutted that this was not the case, since he returned everything he had in his possession.

Magistrate Vella examined the evidence produced by the parties. Bonnici was employed by the association and between April and June 1999 he was assigned a ticket booth at the Cruise Liner Terminal, where tourists would pay for a taxi service. The procedure would be that a client would pay for a taxi service and would be given a coupon which part was held by the client as a receipt while another part was given to the taxi driver. The defendant was to keep a record of the sales, deposit the money in hand and carry out a reconciliation.

Louis Sammut and Alfred Pace testified that from the reconciliation they noticed discrepancies since not all the coupons handed over by the drivers tallied with the money deposited. They noticed that drivers presented coupons which were not registered on Bonnici’s book.

They found stubs missing from the book. Bonnici had admitted that he kept some money and was to deposit it into the bank account. However, what was deposited did not cover all the missing money. Bonnici had claimed he left money with Pace’s wife, but Pace held that this was not true.

Alfred Pace and Louis Sammut testified in court that it was the defendant’s responsibility together with a certain Louis to take care of both booths. They confirmed that during the construction of VISET at times there were two persons at these booths. According to Pace, the defendant admitted to keeping some money, but promised to deposit it. In fact the bulk was deposited, but there was still a pending balance. He denied that his wife received any sum from Bonnici.

Bonnici explained to the Court that in April or May he was instructed to work at the Post. He explained further that there were two booths and at times there were six employees present. Bonnici collected the coupons and money from the other employees and took them to the office either in the evening or else first thing in the morning. At the office the reconciliation took place and the money was then deposited at the bank. In May, a friend invited Bonnici to travel with him. He did and when he returned he was informed that he was dismissed. At the time he had kept some coupons and some money, which he passed on to Pace’s wife. He denied that there were problems with reconciliations. The Court was also informed that Bonnici was found not guilty of the criminal misappropriation charge.

Magistrate Vella held that she had a doubt whether Bonnici was responsible at law, since there were other persons responsible for the running of the booths and there was a doubt whether the missing coupons were in fact sold by Bonnici. Although Bonnici admitted to holding the association’s money, this was returned in part. Regarding whether money was handed to Pace’s wife, the court could not understand why she was not called as a witness.

The court had to rest of the evidence brought before it and from that evidence the court would decide whether it was morally certain of what the plaintiffs were claiming and not merely a possibility. Then the court held that it was not morally convinced that while Bonnici was employed with the association he had misappropriated €5,262.05. According to Article 562 of the Code of Organisation and Civil Procedure, anyone who claims, must prove. This was also mirrored in the criminal proceedings, where the court was not convinced that there was sufficient evidence to find Bonnici guilty and the civil court is not precluded from taking into consideration the results of the criminal proceedings. 

The court then went on to turn down the association’s request for payment.

Malcolm Mifsud, Partner, Mifsud & Mifsud Advocates

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Malcolm Mifsud is a partner at Mifsud & Associates.