Criminal proceedings cannot be suspended pending arbitration in lotto booth case

A criminal case against three hoteliers cannot be suspended according to the Constitutional Court despite separate arbitration proceedings involving the lease of a lotto booth

A request by three hoteliers to suspend a criminal case instituted against them due to a parallel ongoing arbitration case was rejected by the constitutional court.

The court argued that the right to a fair hearing had not been breached as claimed by hoteliers Angelo Xuereb, Claire Zammit, Denise Xuereb and Suncrest Hotels Ltd.

In 2008, Suncrest Hotels had rented out a property in Qawra, to EZ Ltd, owned by Felix Mifsud and Marianne Bezzina, which was being used as a lotto booth.

The Xuerebs claimed that EZ Ltd had fallen behind on payments, and when the agreement expired on 14 February 2015, Mifsud and Bezzina refused to vacate.

This led the hotel to cut off the lotto booth’s electrical supply.

Suncrest Hotels Ltd had filed a case before the Arbitration Board – but the lotto booth operators filed a case in the criminal courts claiming loss of earnings at the same time.

The request to suspend the criminal case pending an outcome in the arbitration case, which was made by the Xuerebs in January 2016 and subsequently refused by the court.

The argument by the Xuerebs was that any evidence presented during criminal proceedings related to the electricity dispute may be used against them in the pending arbitration case.

The lawyers argued that this situation put their clients at a disadvantage and requested that the court to suspend proceedings to ensure equality of arms, adding that their clients would be made vulnerable if the two different cases yield different results. They argued that this could prejudice their right to a fair hearing as guaranteed by the Constitution.

However, the constitutional court said that the outcome of one case could not affect the other.

Moreover, the court noted that the arbitration case did not involve the Xuerebs, as the case was instituted by Suncrest Hotels – which was not party in the criminal case.

The application was rejected on this basis.

The court was presided over by Chief Justice Silvio Camilleri and judges Giannino Caruana Demajo and Noel Cuschieri.

Lawyer Alex Schembri appeared for Felix Mifsud and Marianne Bezzina.  

More in Court & Police

Get access to the real stories first with the digital edition