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'Public Interest' confirmed by the Court (Malta, First Hall, Constitutional Jurisdiction)

15 July 2010, Valletta. Ref Rik. Nru 55/2009. The Court ruled that the privatisation of a formerly government-owned entity did not change the fact that the requisition was carried out 'in the public interest', and is still valid for so long as the use of the property remains the same after privatisation, because the 'public interest' persisted.

Plaintiffs owned a property that was requsitioned in the 1950s and used as a post office. In accordance with the law, a landlord-tenant relationship was created, and rent paid. The plaintiffs accepted that this requisition order was issued in the public interest. In due course the Department of Posts was privatised. The new privately - owned company took over the tenancy of the plaintiffs' property. The plaintiffs claimed (amongst other things) that once the postal services were privatised the requisition order was no longer jusitifed, and their deprivation of enjoyment of property amounted to a breach of fundamental human rights namely article 1, Protocol 1.

 The Court on the other hand ruled that the fact that the postal services are run by a commercial company had no effect on the continued use of the property. The 'public interest' element was therefore not affected. As stated in Frendo Randon et v. Commissioner of Land (Constitutional Court, 10 July 2009) the term 'public interest' can never refer to an essentially private concern. On the other hand, the fact that a private party also benefits or is involved in the workings, even at a profit, of a project that is in the public interest, does not imply the absence of a 'public interest'. Similarly in Cutajar noe v. Commissioner of Land (Constitutional Court, 30 November 2001) reference was made to European Court of Human Rights case James and Others (1986), according to which a deprivation of property effected for no reason other than to confer a private benefit on a private party cannot be 'in the public interest'. Nonetheless the compulsory transfer of property from one individual to another may, depending on the circumstances, constitute a legitimate aim for promoting the public interest. The taking of property effected in pursuance of legitimate social, economic or other policies may be 'in the public interest'.

Based on the above, and other court judgements (for which interested readers are advised to refer to pp 7-13 of the actual judgement) the Court confirmed the requisition order. However, it went on to order compensation of the landlords, for the low rent they were paid over the years, which compensation was to be paid half by the Government and half by the company which now operated the postal system in Malta.

 To access the judgement click here