The way forward in civil proceedings calling for a hospital privatisation deal between the government and Vitals Global Healthcare to be rescinded will be definitively decided upon in March.
This was the outcome of a sitting before the superior court of appeal on Tuesday.
The suit was filed by Nationalist Party Adrian Delia against Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, the Attorney General, Malta Industrial Parks and VGH, calling for Karin Grech, St Luke’s and Gozo hospitals to be 'given back to the people' because contract conditions had not been fully abided by.
Dr Muscat, the AG and the Lands Authority had raised a preliminary plea claiming that the suit was inadmissible since it could only have been filed up to the date when the final deed was signed.
The case, described by the First Court, presided over by Mr Justice Silvio Meli, as one of “great importance” had, however, ground to a halt after the court had upheld a request by the respondents to appeal against an earlier decree whereby the court was to deliver one judgment rather than settle individual issues in separate judgments.
In the light of that decision, Mr Justice Meli had put off the case indefinitely pending the outcome of the appeal proceedings.
When the appeal was called on Tuesday before the court, presided over by Chief Justice Joseph Azzopardi and Mr Justices Joseph R. Micallef and Tonio Mallia, lawyers on either side of the fence put forward their final arguments.
“The original application was not for the rescission of the property transfer but the transfer of shares,” Dr Victoria Buttigieg from the AG’s Office pointed out, adding that since this case dealt with a very sensitive sector, namely healthcare, the court would be “inundated with evidence” and proceedings would take long if the case was not partitioned.
Lawyer Stefano Filletti, assisting the Lands Authority, insisted that Dr Delia could never have filed the action and had no juridical interest.
“This was to be decided upon from the start rather than have such doubt dragged throughout the proceedings,” Dr Filletti argued.
“If a case ever merited that preliminary pleas be heard, it is definitely this,” added John Bonello appearing on behalf of Malta Industrial Parks, pointing out that there was no jurisprudence on this matter. “The only similar case was PM vs Mark Gaffarena,” Dr Bonello continued pointing out that it would be useless for the court to hear voluminous evidence, rather than decide piecemeal upon individual pleas.
Countering these arguments, applicant’s lawyer Edward Debono recalled the words of the first court which had defined the suit as one of “great importance,” and hence deserving to be handled in one judgment.
There were basically two vital issues to be considered by the court on appeal, Dr Debono observed, firstly whether the respondents could have appealed Mr Justice Meli’s decree in the first place.
Having the case dealt with piecemeal would protract the case, Dr Debono argued. “This is not right and this is not justice.”
Secondly, every MP, as representative of the people, had a right to safeguard public property, Dr Debono argued. “When the AG or Lands Authority were not performing their duty, a Member of Parliament had a right to act on behalf of the people and this right did not stop once the deed had been signed.”
Winding up today’s arguments, Jason Azzopardi, also assisting the Opposition Leader, pointed out that this was probably the greatest lawsuit, in monetary terms, before the Maltese Courts since the value of the deed at issue was €2 billion.
“It’s absurd to state that if there is a change in the conditions of the transfer, an MP could not go to court to safeguard public property,” stressed Dr Azzopardi, pointing out that “logic and law were to go hand in hand.”
The decision on the appeal is expected in March.
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