Minister’s husband feels hard done by lost libel suit, claims human rights breach

Patrick Dalli lost his libel suit against a journalist and now wants the justice minister, his wife’s fellow Cabinet colleague, and the AG to give him a legal remedy

Patrick Dalli and wife Helena, her Cabinet colleague Owen Bonnici, and the journalist Caroline Muscat
Patrick Dalli and wife Helena, her Cabinet colleague Owen Bonnici, and the journalist Caroline Muscat

Businessman Patrick Dalli feels hard done by a court of appeal ruling that rejected his libel claim against a journalist and is taking the matter a step further.

In a judicial protest filed on Wednesday, Dalli is calling on the justice minister, the director general of courts and the attorney general to give him a remedy for what he describes as “an incorrect and surprising” appeals outcome.

Dalli, who is married to Equality Minister Helena Dalli, had sued former Times of Malta journalist Caroline Muscat for libel over a series of articles investigating irregularities in works carried out on his property in Zejtun.

In July last year the Court of Magistrates had condemned Muscat to pay a total of €10,000 in libel damages, but this judgment was overturned on appeal earlier this month.

In the judicial protest, which was signed by lawyers Edward Gatt and Mark Vassallo, Dalli attacked the reasoning used by the Court of Appeal, which he said, had gone beyond the facts of the case and which he claimed, breached his human rights.

The court had used arguments which were “totally incorrect and surprising… passing comment on his economic liquidity,” he said.

Not only were the negative comments made in this regard wrong but they had failed to take into account the assets which he had in properties and that which he was going to gain from the sale of properties.

He could never had received fitting treatment from a court that chose to comment on him the way the Court of Appeal did, he said, as it had included arguments which didn’t constitute the merits of the libel suits.

In addition to this, Dalli said that while he appreciated and insisted that there should be absolute freedom for journalists to report correctly, he could not accept being targeted by “venomous and untrue journalism” simply because he was married to an MP.

In the protested judgment, Mr Justice Anthony Ellul had praised the minister for accepting the criticism levelled at her without resorting to the courts.

“[This is] a classic example where the libel laws were not used by a public person as a political weapon against freedom of expression, and it serves as an example.”

But Dalli accused the Court of Appeal of “sarcastically and cynically” complimenting his wife for not coming to the court’s doorstep. The reasoning given in the judgments prejudiced his right to family life, he said.

The judicial protest asked the defendants to provide a legal remedy, in the absence of which they would be held liable in damages.

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