Lawyer Luciano Busuttil has been awarded damages for defamation after a report published in PN daily In-Nazzjon had alleged political discrimination by the former Labour mayor of Ħamrun.
This was the crux of a libel suit filed by Dr Busuttil and Philip Massa, as former mayor and executive secretary of the council respectively, following the publication of an article entitled ‘Condemnation of all forms of discrimination, even political.’
This article, carried by the PN daily on November 14, 2007, was purported to report an earlier statement released by the College of PN Councillors, editor Alex Attard had argued in the course of the libel proceedings.
Yet, this argument was given short shrift by the court which, upon the evidence produced, concluded that the editor could not avail himself of this alleged reporting of a public statement as a valid excuse.
The alleged discrimination mentioned in the article concerned the engagement by the council, under the leadership of Dr Busuttil, of certain Labour-leaning individuals for the provision of professional services.
The court, presided over by magistrate Gabriella Vella, pointed out that, as had been attested by audited reports, there had been shortcomings amounting to financial mismanagement by the Ħamrun council, “shortcomings which ought to have never taken place.”
Such failures, while clearly indicative of "a lack of diligence", could not be taken as amounting to discrimination unless substantial evidence was produced to that effect, the court observed.
While the editor had failed to put forward such proof, the former mayor had, on the contrary, shown that the selection of the council’s legal advisor had followed a call published in the Government Gazette and unanimously approved by the council members.
While deeming that there was no claim for libel in respect of the former executive secretary, the court upheld the claim in respect of Dr Busuttil, ordering the editor to fork out €1,000 in damages.
Lawyer Abigail Critien was counsel to Dr Busuttil.
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