Minister was right not to intervene in student’s complaint, say court

Court dismisses student’s appeal for minister to intervene in scholarship board’s review process, says minister’s intervention would have shed bad light on board

A student who claimed that a government scholarship board had already made up its mind to refuse her application before an interview, lost a civil suit on Friday demanding that the education minister changes the decision, with the judge underlining that such a practice would turn the board simply into a “smokescreen” created just for formality.

In her application, Antoinette Greta Grima – a graduate student who was refused a scholarship through the Malta Government Scholarship Scheme (MGSS) – argued that she was at a “disadvantage” because the board members did not have enough expertise to correctly review her application.

Dubbing the board’s decision as unfair and discriminatory, Grima called on education minister Evarist Bartolo to intervene in the point system and change the marks so she be eligible for the scholarship, and that if he fails to do so she should be given sufficient remedy.

The court heard that Grima, who was among 122 who had their application refused, subsequently filed an appeal before the MGSS appeals’ board – but this was refused as it could only deal with procedural errors.

Judge Joseph Micallef also heard that despite an exchange of emails between the plaintiff’s father and the education minister calling for the latter to intervene, Evarist Bartolo refused, insisting that he wanted to respect the board’s decisions.

Dismissing the plaintiff’s claims, the court argued that a student who felt “prejudiced” at a board’s decision did not provide sufficient grounds for a minister to intervene, and that if there were enough grounds, the minister did not have the power to do so.

While acknowledging that the board members may have lacked some expertise to review her application, the judge insisted that nevertheless, if the minister had intervened it would have raised more questions than answers.

“If the minister intervened and changed the marks, he would have done this to the prejudice of the other students whose application was accepted. Notwithstanding the applicant’s qualifications and that the fact that she had already been accepted to undertake a course overseas, there was no reasonable grounds for a public authority to intervene in the adjudicating process,” the court underlined.

Mr Justice Micallef added that if the minister had intervened, this would have shed a bad light on the board, and would have meant that that board was simply a “smokescreen created only for the looks.”

“If that was the case, then the court would have intervened, but not in cases where the minister refused to do so,” Judge Micallef said.

The court also ruled that the MGSS board did not act in a discriminatory or unreasonable manner, and that if this was the case, it did not have the competence afforded to it by law for it to intervene in the process of the scholarship application.

Lawyer Andrew Borg Cardona appeared for Grima.