€1 million in damages over Labour Party ‘coercion’ to hand over Birżebbuġa building

Birżebbuġa property owners were presented with ‘all or nothing’ deal by former lands minister Joe Brincat in 1979

After being 'coerced' into signing the lease, the owners of the Birżebbuġa property accommodating the Labour Party club were given nearly €1 million in damages for being deprived of the full enjoyment of their property. 

The lawsuit included a piece of land facing Pretty Bay which was originally known as The Smiling Prince Hotel. Following this, the property was used for as a telephone exchange jointly with a piece of land nearby on Triq id-Duluri that was home to a health centre.

Placed under a requisition order in August 1979, the owners had been summoned by former lands minister Joe Brincat and was presented with an all-or-nothing deal.

Allegedly, the minister told the owners that leasing the property to the Labour Party would benefit them since the property would remain under requisition anyway.

On 16 September 1980, after vacating the premises, the government handed the property to the Labour Party, who took over and leased it while entering into a contract with the pervious owner. 

In 2018, the owners filed a constitutional case claiming that their fundamental rights were breached since they were denied full enjoyment of their property and requested adequate compensation. 

The First Hall of the Civil Court, presided over by Judge Ian Spiteri Bailey, noted that the decision would not change the requisition order that was still in effect when handing down its ruling on Wednesday. 

Public interest was subject to wide interpretation and the authorities had wide discretion when controlling the use of property in that public interest, said the judge.

Here the court declared that the Labour Party could no longer rely on Chapter 69 (Reletting of Urban Property - Regulation - Ordinance) for ‘protection’ to retain occupancy of the premises.

As for compensation, after taking note of the valuations prepared by the court expert, the court awarded the applicants €978,462 in pecuniary damages and a further €15,000 in non-pecuniary damages payable by the State Advocate and the Housing Authority as respondents.