Hagar Qim restaurant land to be returned to rightful owner after 14-year court saga

The restaurant operator had filed for retrial after losing an appeal against the decision back in 2017

The land on which the restaurant was built will have to be returned to its original owners (Photo: TripAdvisor)
The land on which the restaurant was built will have to be returned to its original owners (Photo: TripAdvisor)

The superior court of appeal has confirmed judgments ordering the eviction of the operators of the Ta’ Hagar Qim Restaurant from the land upon which the restaurant was illegally built, bringing to a close a 14-year legal saga.

The case dates back to 2005 when the heirs of a certain Giuseppa Magri from Qrendi filed a case against Jane Cini, over a field with some overlying structures which she had leased from Magri. The field was situated near the Hagar Qim temples in Qrendi.

Over the years, Cini had made extensive structural alterations to the property, going as far as to open a restaurant there, without the consent of the mother of the plaintiff or her children.

The Magris’ lawyer Michael Tanti Dougall had filed an application in 2005, asking the courts to order the land be returned to them.

Cini’s lawyers had argued that the lease was protected by the Reletting of Urban Property Ordinance, a legal relic of the pre-1995 rent reform laws and as well as the fact that the Magri family had been aware of the structural changes which had been made.

After the Magris’ claim was upheld at first instance, Cini had filed an appeal which, in 2017, she had also lost.

She had then filed for a retrial, claiming that the law had been applied incorrectly and that the judgment was the result of an error resulting from the proceedings.

The court, presided by Mr. Justice Giannino Caruana Demajo, Mr. Justice Joseph R. Micallef and Mr. Justice Noel Cuschieri however ruled that for a mistake to lead to the overturning of the original judgment and a retrial, it must be a determining mistake dealing with a fundamental aspect of the judgment.

The retrial application had also been filed long after the period provided by law to do so had elapsed, observed the court.

The function of the courts is to interpret the facts before it, and the power and duty to weigh them and apply the correct law are vitally important, said the three judges.

All decisions bring with them an element of discretion on the part of the deciding judge, which is not subject to the remedy of retrial, but rather which qualifies as the “sovereign judgment” of the courts.

The court examined the relevant legal doctrines on the issue of the wrong application of the law and its wrong interpretation, saying that in order for a retrial to be ordered, the court must have applied the wrong law and not applied the right law incorrectly.

This is why the law stipulates that whoever demands a retrial must mention in his court application, which law should have been applied. “In the case at hand, the applicants fail to mention which law should have been applied and wasn’t. On the contrary, this court believes that the applicant recognises that the court used the right law but disagrees with how it was applied.”

The court dismissed the request for a retrial, with costs against Cini. The premises were definitively ordered to be returned to the Magri family.

Lawyer Michael Tanti Dougall appeared for the Magri family. Lawyer Franco Galea was legal counsel to Cini.

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