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'Justice must not only be done, but appear to be done' (Court of Appeal, Malta)

28 October 2010, Valletta, Malta. Ref: App. Civ. 16/2009. The Hon. Mr Justice Pace annulled a Planning Appeals Board ruling, and sent the matter back to be re-considered, in the process ordering that the Planning Appeals Board must be composed differently 'u dan in omagg tal-principju li l-gustizzja trid mhux biss issir, izda tidher li qed issir...' (p. 11) TRANSLATION 'paying tribute to the principle that justice must not only be done, but must appear to be being done...' (judgement, p. 11).

The appellant pleaded, amongst other things, that the Planning Appeals Board decided his appeal from a refusal of an application for development permission, on the basis of matters that were neither pleaded, nor considered during the sittings.

Appellant had contested the Malta Environment & Planning Authority's refusal of his application to open a quarry. The Authority had refused this application on the basis that there were not enough dust-control measures, no permits for new quarries were to be issued, and that the application was in breach of the Structure Plan. The Planning Appeals Board, on the other hand, refused his appeal because the land was of high agricultural value. This last reason for refusal was not raised during the sittings, and the appellant never had the opportunity to make submissions on this point, before the Planning Appeals Board took its decision. The Court of Appeal considered this to be a breach of the appellant's right to a fair hearing.

The Court of Appeal compared the case before it with Anthony Bezzina noe v. Director of Contracts et  (Court of Appeal, 27.03.09), on which occasion it was held that while the Court had the right to raise certain matters on an ex officio basis, the rights of the parties to the case had to be respected, including the right to make submissions on the matter.

To access the court judgement click here