Court berates charity members for abusing justice system over personal issues

Magistrate berates former animal charity members for using the justice system to bicker over personal problems.

Magistrate Franceso Depasquale has hit out at four former committee members of animal rights NGO Happy Paws, claiming that their libel case against the NGO’s president was an “abuse of the justice system and embarassing”.

Presiding over the civil courts, the Magistrate made the remarks during his decree in a civil libel suit instituted by Vivien Buckley Palmer, Maria Peterson, Margaret Micallef and Margaret Higgins against Happy Paws and its president, Maike Beekman.

The plaintiffs complained that an article published on the NGO’s website was defamatory and that it had tarnished their reputation. Published on June 7, 2009, the article had said that former committee members had changed the lease contracts for two charity shops formerly operated by Happy Paws.

Consequently, the article stated, no income was going to be received by the Happy Paws clinic and the society will struggle to keep afloat.

In another article on August 17, the defendants had held that the former committee members had changed the locks, took over the leases, and told them that the revenue of both shops would no longer be going to Happy Paws.

In his decree, Magistrate Depasquale dismissed the claimant’s plea for libel, arguing that the articles were true, and also had stern words for the claimants’ "abuse of the judicial system".

“This case is nothing but an attempt to abuse the Maltese judiciary system and to tarnish the name of the president of the charity. This clash of personalities is giving a bad name to other charities, who instead of resorting to court, settle their differences around a table.”

The court also hit out at the former committee members, arguing that it looked like they became members for their own benefit, because as soon as a disagreement broke out, they jumped ship and abandoned the charity.