The Constitutional Court has ordered the appeal against the Marsascala recycling plant to be heard again ruling the planning appeals board that decided the case in 2005 was not “independent and impartial”.
Mr Justice Gino Camilleri said the fundamental human rights of the Marsascala local council were breached because the planning appeals board was appointed by the Environment Minister, who was also responsible for pushing forward the controversial project. As a result, the board’s independence and impartiality were compromised in breach of the applicants’ human rights.
The judgment was delivered two months after the recycling facility was officially inaugurated. The project had gone ahead despite pending legal challenges to the planning process.
After the Malta Environment and Planning Authority approved the permit in September 2005, the local council and the residents’ lobby group, represented by lawyer Owen Bonnici, now a Labour MP, lodged a planning appeal, which was turned down.
They later challenged the board’s independence and impartiality because its three members had been appointed by the President on the advice of the Environment Minister who was also responsible for WasteServ, the government company behind the recycling facility.
The Constitutional Court rejected the Environment Ministry’s argument that the minister had no power at law to interfere with decisions taken by the appeals board.
The judge ruled that if any party involved in the case had the power to decide whether a member should continue sitting on the appeals tribunal or not, such a member would no longer be independent. Consequently, the appointment and composition of the board was deemed to be in breach of the residents’ fundamental human right to have their case determined by an independent and impartial tribunal.
Mr Justice Camilleri ruled the appeal should be heard again before the appeals tribunal set up by the new law governing the Malta Environment and Planning Authority, which, he said, provided greater safeguards to ensure impartiality and independence.
Dr Bonnici said he was satisfied with the decision because it vindicated the stand taken by Marsascala residents over the years.
“Environment Minister George Pullicino had accused us of trying to sabotage the planning process by going to court. Now that the court found him guilty of breaching human rights, Mr Pullicino has a lot to answer for,” Dr Bonnici said when contacted.
According to Marsascala resident Joe Sant, who led a lobby group against the recycling facility, the decision showed that residents were right when they claimed unjust treatment.
“I am satisfied because we won the principle but five years down the line I doubt whether justice can be done because the plant is now fully operational while we have to start the appeals process from scratch,” he said.
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