The Malta Transport Authority breached yacht owners’ fundamental human right to enjoyment of their property when it changed permanent berthing contracts at the Ta’ Xbiex Yacht Marina to annual ones, a court ruled yesterday.

Mr Justice Joseph Zammit McKeon delivered this judgment following a constitutional application filed by 19 yacht owners against the authority.

They told the court that for many years they had berthed their yachts at the marina on the basis of a rental agreement against a reasonable annual berthing fee. But in 2011 the authority told them that the terms and conditions of their berthing agreements would change and that they were obliged to enter into a new contract.

The yacht owners told the court the new contracts were prejudicial to their interests. The previous contracts all stated that the berthing agreement was permanent and their rental receipts also included the term that the rent was permanent.

In the new proposed agreement, the berthing was on an annual basis and the berthing fees were to increase substantially.

The owners added the enforcement of this new agreement was in violation of their property rights as they contended that the rights they enjoyed in respect of berthing were property rights subject to protection.

In yesterday’s judgment Mr Justice Zammit McKeon agreed with the yacht owners and declared that the rights they had acquired in terms of their original berthing agreements were property rights subject to human rights’ protection. The state was bound to ensure that the individual had peaceful enjoyment of his or her property.

The owners had enjoyed the right to berth their yachts in this marina on a permanent basis. It was the authority that had changed the terms of the berthing contracts as it had projects in mind for the marina.

The owners, said the court, had a vested right which merited protection. The authority could change its policies but it could not ignore the rights of the owners.

The authority was ordered to respect the owners’ rights to berth their yachts in the marina on a permanent and indefinite basis.

This was subject to the condition that the owners had to pay the berthing fee which could be altered by the authority on a reasonable basis from time to time.

Lawyers David Camilleri and Joe Gatt appeared for the boat owners.

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