Two decades after instituting a constitutional case against former Labour Minister Lorry Sant for human rights violations, the late architect Renè Buttigieg has been vindicated although the court did not grant compensation.
Mr Justice Gino Camilleri ruled that Mr Buttigieg’s human rights were violated when he was kept in a small room without basic sanitary facilities and given no work for four and a half months of his government employment.
“This is an unjust order and was intended to create hardship, in this case mental suffering, to degrade him in front of his colleagues, diminish his dignity, embarrass and demoralise him,” the court said, pointing out that this was a “severe violation”.
Mr Sant was also found to have discriminated against Mr Buttigieg by making sure he was the only architect not allowed to sign a reorganisation exercise which he had every right to sign – making him miss out on a better salary, among other benefits.
Mr Justice Camilleri said Mr Sant’s conduct left a lot to be desired and it was clear that he could not stand Mr Buttigieg.
“Minister Lorry Sant used to run his ministry in a rough and quite arrogant way... aggressive towards all employees including the highest officials,” Mr Justice Camilleri pointed out in his 45-page judgment.
One of the Labour Party’s most controversial figures, Mr Sant became Works Minister in 1972 and died in 1995 aged 57.
Mr Buttigieg was the secretary of the Professional Engineers Union and treasurer of the Malta Government Professional Officers Union and claimed he was persecuted because of his trade unionist role.
He became a government architect in 1961 but after working under Mr Sant he was forced to leave his job 14 years before retirement age, choosing to continue his life in Ghana since he feared further retribution by Mr Sant.
Ending up on anti-depressants and suffering from panic attacks, he died in 2006, aged 76, after initiating the case against Mr Sant in 1991, for discrimination, abuses of power and persecution occurring in 1973 and 1978.
More than 30 years and 3,100 pages of court documents later, Mr Buttigieg was vindicated by the court’s declaration.
But his family was not given any compensation – because both parties have since died and because Mr Buttigieg took so long to begin the case.
However, Mr Buttigieg had said he could not have started the case earlier because Mr Sant ruled with an iron fist and there would have been consequences had he done so.
Since the European Convention of Human Rights was adopted into Maltese legislation in 1987 and cannot be applied to crimes committed before that time, the judge said he could not find Mr Sant guilty of breaching it, as Mr Buttigieg had hoped.
The judge also found that many other allegations made by Mr Buttigieg did not amount to discrimination or human rights violations, including claims that he was not given promotions, not allowed to take leave, and was severely overworked.
Architect Michael Busuttil, who worked within the Ministry at the time as Director of Public Works and was implicated in the case, was absolved of any human rights breaches.
The ruling, which was given last Friday, is likely to be appealed.
Lawyer Tonio Azzopardi appeared for Mr Buttigieg’s family, having taken over the case from now retired European Court of Human Rights judge Giovanni Bonello.