A man who had to cancel his 80th birthday party due to COVID-19 restrictions in place has won a legal battle with the caterer that refused to refund the €500 deposit he had paid for the celebration.

A judge ordered Busy Bee Retail Limited to give back Henry Schembri’s deposit after he was forced to cancel his birthday party in December 2020, when restrictions related to the pandemic were still in full force.

Confirming a decision by the Consumer Claims Tribunal, Mr Justice Lawrence Mintoff threw out the caterer’s appeal and confirmed that the option Schembri had been given to postpone his birthday celebration to another date was not a suitable one.

The court heard that Schembri approached the renowned caterer in January 2020 to organise his 80th birthday party for between 150 and 180 people at Torre Paulina in December.

He had received a quotation by email and was asked for a €500 deposit.

The pandemic then hit and strict COVID measures were introduced by the health authorities.

A number of his guests lived abroad so there was no way they could attend due to flight restrictions.

The caterer said alternative options had been offered, including holding a seated event, which, at the time, was allowed or to postpone the event to another day.

None of the alternatives were acceptable to Schembri and he insisted on cancelling the planned event.

The caterer, however, insisted that the deposit was non-refundable.

Mr Justice Mintoff disagreed with the company’s arguments, saying that none of the documentation presented in court stipulated that the deposit was non-refundable in case of cancellation.

The court noted that Schembri had been forced to cancel his birthday party because of the pandemic.

“A person only turns 80 once in his life. Unlike events like weddings, a birthday party was not something that could be postponed to another date. It happened in the midst of a global pandemic that was affecting mostly the elderly.

“There was no vaccine at the time and people were forced to take precautions in how they went about their daily lives,” the judge noted.

He said that, although the caterer argued that mass events had not been banned at the time, switching to a seated event would have cost double, apart from the health concerns that the man had for himself and his guests.

Mr Justice Mintoff threw out the caterer’s appeal and confirmed the tribunal’s original decision, ordering Busy Bee to refund the deposit.

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