PN leader’s case on Vitals hospital contract: Court refuses blanket ban on reporting

PN leader’s court case to annul Vitals hospitals concessions stalled over technicality, court refuses request to have case heard behind closed doors

The case filed by Opposition leader Adrian Delia asking for the annulment of the contract transferring three state hospitals to the now defunct Vitals Global Healthcare, has stalled until an appeal on a technicality is decided.

The Prime Minister, the Attorney General and the Lands Authority had raised a preliminary plea claiming that the suit was inadmissible since it could only have been filed up to the date when the final deed was signed.

But lawyers for Delia retorted that the other side’s argument was on the merits of the case and was not to be tackled as a preliminary plea. The court had said that this case was not to be broken down into preliminary stages and rather be decided upon in one final judgment rather than piecemeal decisions on separate pleas.

Judge Silvio Meli put the case off sine die until an appeal – against his decision to give his decision on a number of preliminary pleas together with final judgment – is decided.

“The only defence of the judicial process is transparency,” said the judge. It would be just and fitting that the issue in question be decided by the Court of Appeal before the case could continue, he said.

A separate issue – of the secrecy of the 30-year concession contract to VGH, which has now been transferred to American healthcare giant Steward – was also tackled in Tuesday’s sitting.

Delia’s lawyers argued that it was the contract itself that was being attacked and it was in the public interest to see that what was authorised in Parliament is carried out. It didn’t make sense that the subsequent agreement be kept hidden from the same public, MP and lawyer Jason Azzopardi argued.

Lawyers Stefano Filletti, for the Lands Authority, and Victoria Buttigieg for the AG argued that it was not ideal that commercially sensitive information be made subject to public consumption.

A request by the defendants that the case be heard behind closed doors due to sensitive commercial information, was refused by the court, which ruled that it would decide what information was too sensitive for public consumption itself.

Lawyers Edward Debono and Jason Azzopardi are counsel to Adrian Delia. Lawyer Victoria Buttigieg from the office of the AG is counsel to the prime minister.

Lawyer Stefano Filletti is counsel to the Lands Authority. Lawyer John Bonello is counsel to Malta Industrial Parks. Lawyer Adrian Meli is counsel to VGH.

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