Caruana Galizia loses appeal in Julia Farrugia libel case

The Court of Appeal ruled that ‘the fundamental right of freedom of expression does not translate into a right to harm other people's reputations’

Julia Farrugia (L) and Daphne Caruana Galizia
Julia Farrugia (L) and Daphne Caruana Galizia

The Court of Appeal has dismissed an appeal filed by blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia against a 2015 judgment which condemned her to pay €3,000 in libel damages to Julia Farrugia, the former editor of Maltese-language newspaper Illum.

Farrugia had filed libel proceedings in 2011 after a number of posts and comments, which had not been moderated, had suggested that Farrugia had links to the murder of Raymond Caruana.

Farrugia's father, Karmenu, had been singled out by a witness as the person who carried out the politically-motivated murder of Raymond Caruana in 1986. Farrugia was nine years old at the time.

In its 2015 decision, the court of Magistrates had also noted that the blogger had described Farrugia as "a bitch, a cow and a prostitute".

That court had dismissed Caruana Galizia’s argument that the assertions were fair comment, together with her claim that she had no control over what third parties chose to comment on her blogs, pointing out that she had administrative control over what comments were published.

In a decision handed down today, the Court of Appeal presided by Judge Anthony Ellul, held that the comments about the Caruana murder had “nothing to do with value judgments or fair comment, but were statements of facts. “The defendant did not limit herself to reporting statements that Ganni Psaila – the witness who had claimed Farrugia's father had committed the murder and who was later found dead at the bottom of a lift shaft - had made years before when he testified in criminal proceedings, but had reported them as if their veracity was certain.”

“The defendant's writings draw a picture of the plaintiff as a person who is not credible when writing about subjects related to politics, because of the insistence that her father had fired a submachine gun at a PN club, which the defendant had taken as fact for the simple reason that Ganni Psaila had testified to this in court.”

The fact that he had testified did not mean it was true, said the judge, pointing out that Farrugia had denied the allegation and there was no record of criminal proceedings ever having been started in his regard.

Farrugia had every right to defend her family's reputation, held the court.

“The fundamental right of freedom of expression does not translate into a right to harm other people's reputations.” Because the defence was “built on facts similar to a sandcastle” it could not be successful, the court said.

The court, however, also dismissed Farrugia's request for a higher award compensation, saying it did not wish to disturb the first court's discretion and that it was not convinced that there was a basis for an increase in compensation.

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