A criminal libel case filed by the Ramblers Association against David Lindsay, editor of the Malta Independent on Sunday, has been dismissed after the court declared that the editor was justified in delaying the publication of a potentially defamatory reply by the association to seek legal advice.

The case arose after the Sunday paper failed to publish the ramblers' reply to an article entitled "Whistleblower claims discriminatory and selective campaign linked to Ian Borg” which appeared on July 24, 2016.

The article reported an interview with Noel Ciantar, a Rabat farmer, whose family got involved in a dispute with the association which had launched a campaign to attack the family's legal rights to cultivate land in is-Simblija, limits of Rabat.

Mr Ciantar had alleged that the campaign to gain public access over his family property had been instigated by Ian Borg who was then mayor of Dingli.

The court, presided by Magistrate Francesco Depasquale, observed that the Ramblers' Association had sent a reply dated July 28, 2016 to rebut the allegations reported in the article. Although not published in the subsequent two editions of the paper, the reply was eventually reported in its entirety on October 30, 2016 under the title "Fabrication against the Ramblers' Association”.

The court noted that Mr Lindsay had testified that he had first sought legal advice before sending the reply to print since he felt that it contained potentially defamatory statements.

The court concluded that after reading the letter, it confirmed the editor's line of reasoning and pointed out that such a decision not to publish potentially defamatory material was allowed by law.

A right of reply does not mean that one could make defamatory allegations against third parties. This would amount to abuse, the court remarked.

Moreover, the court noted that the case had been filed two months after the publication of the association's reply at a time when the issue had already been resolved. The court rejected the association's claims and ordered it to bear the costs of the case.

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