Court revokes football clubs' €160,000 garnishee on travel agent over missed tournament

Pietá Hotspurs, Hamrun Spartans Nursery and Birkirkara FC Youth Academy had missed a football tournament in Denmark to a flight delay

File photo
File photo

Mr. Justice Grazio Mercieca has revoked a €160,000 garnishee order served upon a travel agent by three football nurseries over breach of contract, following flight cancellations which saw the youth teams stranded in Malta.

The case dates back to April of this year when Frankie Ciantar as representative of Pietà Hotspurs had asked Joffrey Mallia, a broker for the company FSS, to provide a charter flight for 282 passengers from Malta to Aalborg in Denmark.

The contract provided for a flight to Denmark for the purpose of a football tournament, the Dana Cup in Denmark, where the youngsters were due to participate.

The €66,270 charter agreement was signed by Ciantar in his own name without mention of any football club or association.

It came to pass that the flight was hit by delays and so FSS had offered alternative flights, which the Maltese contingent chose not to accept.

In a judicial letter presented to the court, the three football nurseries demanded reimbursement for the amount paid to Joffrey Mallia for a service which did not materialise, as well as damages.

Then in July 2019 Ciantar as representative of Pietà Hotspurs, Noel Debattista on behalf of Hamrun Spartans Nursery and Jonathan Barbara on behalf of Birkirkara FC Youth Academy, as well as on behalf of the youngsters participating in the football tournament and the adults who were to accompany them on their travels, obtained a garnishee order for €160,000 against Mallia citing breach of contract.

Mallia had contested the garnishee and the matter was referred to the First Hall of the Civil Court, presided by Mr. Justice Grazio Mercieca.

In his decision on the matter, handed down this morning, Mr. Justice Mercieca said that he had to first determine whether the garnishee in question was valid.

Making reference to the Code of Organisation and Civil Procedure, he noted that every judicial act has to be presented by the parties themselves, in their own names, unless the person is abroad, in which case a representative would be appointed.

In the case at hand, the judge said that it appeared that all the plaintiffs lived in Malta and could not, therefore, be represented in court by a mandatary. This apart from the fact that no one may present judicial acts in the name of other people’s children unless specifically authorised, for example, as a curator.

The judge further pointed out that the plaintiffs were not named and indeterminate in number. They were not identified individually and neither was their number established.

“Truly a novel way of presenting judicial acts!” commented the judge.

Therefore, the garnishee, insofar as it being made in representation of children in the respective clubs and the accompanying adults was null, he said.

In addition, the judge noted that neither Pieta’ Hotspurs F.C Academy nor Hamrun Spartans Nursery were registered under the Sports Act and did not have a distinct juridical personality. This meant that they could not file legal proceedings in their name. The warrant was irregular and null even in this respect, said the judge.

One requirement for a precautionary warrant, such as the garnishee, was that the demand was prima facie justified, added the court. The Court must strike a delicate balance between the right for judicial action and the right of the person to protect his or her interests until the substantive right is defined by the court.

“It is an objective, and not subjective, requirement and does not depend on the discretion of the judge. Either the rights required for the issuing of the precautionary warrant appear to exist prima facie, at first glance, or they don’t.”

There was no explanation as to how the figure of €160,000 was reached, much less the amount expected by the only legitimate plaintiff, Frankie Ciantar, in his own name, said the judge.

But the court also said that it did not feel that the imposition of additional penalties envisaged by the law and requested by the defendants were applicable, nor were the liquidation of damages.

The court revoked the garnishees. In view of the fact that the garnishee order was not followed up by a court case, the court ordered Noel Debattista to pay Mallia €1,164.

Lawyer Keith Borg appeared for Mallia.