Updated | Decision on whether Vitals case can be split up expected in March

Back in May, the Prime Minister, the Attorney General and the Lands Authority had requested that a lawsuit brought by PN leader Adrian Delia be split into several smaller cases

Opposition leader Adrian Delia has asked the courts to annul an agreement transferring three of Malta's public hospitals to Vitals Global Healthcare
Opposition leader Adrian Delia has asked the courts to annul an agreement transferring three of Malta's public hospitals to Vitals Global Healthcare

A decision on whether a request to split up the lawsuits filed by Opposition leader Adrian Delia demanding the annulment of a contract signed between the government and Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH) is expected in March, a court has said.

On the 19 February last year, shortly after a concession for the running of three of Malta’s public hospitals was transferred from Vitals Global Healthcare to Steward Heath Care, Delia filed court proceedings asking for the annulment of the concession agreement.

The government, Delia had said, had no right to authorise the transfer of the concession from VGH to Steward, given that VGH has breached the terms of the contract in a number of instances.   

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

The court had decided that the case was not to be broken down into preliminary stages, and would rather be decided upon in one final judgment, rather than piecemeal decisions on separate pleas.

The court, on 10 May 2018, had decreed that the case was one of great importance and should not be divided into a number of cases.

An appeal was nonetheless filed against the decision on 14 May, with the court giving permission on the basis of ensuring transparency.

The AG hard argued that the Government Lands Act did not give a right to an MP to file such a case, if not at the beginning of a temporary emphyteutical concession.

READ MORE: Liquidity problems pushed Vitals to seek concession sale

It was also argued that this case could only be impugned by the Lands Authority, Malta Industrial Parks and Vitals Global healthcare and that the transfer of shares is not the same as the transfer of property.

During Tuesday morning’s appeal sitting before Chief Justice Joseph Azzopardi and Judges Joseph R. Micallef and Tonio Mallia lawyers Edward Debono and Jason Azzopardi who are representing Delia, argued that the first issue that must decided is whether a Civil Courts Judge had the right to decide whether to split up a case or not.

They argued that it was the right of the Judge to proceed as he saw fit in a case where the AG’s and Prime Minister’s arguments were not a preliminary nature, but on the merits of the case.

The Opposition leader, it was argued, had the right, like every other MP, to scrutinise every agreement and contract approved by Parliament, not only upon introducing, but also over the course of the contract.

Had this not been the case, the Government Lands Act would have been introduced for nothing. 

The court of appeal will give a decision on the issue on 29 March.

READ MORE: Vitals investor withdraws court injunction, paving the way for hospitals concession transfer

Prime Minister trying to evade justice – PN

In a statement following Tuesday’s sitting, the PN accused the government of again trying to stop the case instituted by Delia. The party said that after the courts had established that the Prime Minister must be a party to the case, he had filed an appeal to overturn the decision.

“Joseph Muscat is trying to evade judgment by the courts because if it were up to him he would not appear before it,” the PN said.

It said the AG and lawyers for the government had today presented a number of “excuses, including that the health sector is a sensitive one”.

“Given that the the sector is a sensitive one, it is far more important for this case to be heard and decided in the best interests of the people,” the PN said.  

Furthermore, it said the government’s side had today noted that the case was one without precedent, and one which should therefore not go ahead. “The Opposition leader should not only be watchdog over the government, but it must also represent the people.”

The PN said the government was doing all it could to make sure that the people were not informed about the deal.