Education Minister Evarist Bartolo was today awarded €4,000 in damages after winning two separate libel cases filed against local newspapers in-Nazzjon and il-Mument.

The first article dated back to December 20, 2013 and concerned the possible reduction or withholding of stipends and smart cards for students attending Naxxar Higher Secondary and the Gozo Sixth Form.

The court, presided over by magistrate Francesco Depasquale, found that documentary evidence showed that the Minister had not been aware of any decision concerning a possible withdrawal of stipends. Mr Bartolo had said that the decision had been taken behind his back. 

Stating that this was simply an excuse did not amount to a fair comment on the part of the newspaper, the court observed.

Evarist Bartolo.Evarist Bartolo.

Moreover, in-Nazzjon had failed to publish the report of the investigation whose findings clearly showed that the Minister had not been involved in the decision.

The second libel suit concerned a similar article published in October 2013, which was also found to have been defamatory in Mr Bartolo's regard. The court once again observed that the Minister had not been aware of any decision taken to reduce the stipends of certain students.

The court ordered both editors to fork out €2,000 each as damages for the defamatory articles.

However, in a third libel case concerning the same issue, the court turned down the Minister's application.

The October 2013 article had reported a statement issued by the Nationalist Party which insisted that Mr Bartolo was to bear political responsibility for any decision taken by Stipends Board chairman Tonio Briguglio.

The court observed that the editor of in-Nazzjon had never implied that the Minister was directly involved in the decision to withdraw the payment of stipends, but had simply stated that he should shoulder political responsibility for the decision.