A man has been awarded €35,000 in compensation over a violation of his human rights, after a court case over rent payment due to his landlord dragged on for 18 years and raised the accumulated interest far higher than the sum he originally owed.
Presiding over the constitutional court, Madam Justice Anna Felice ruled that the delay was mostly attributable to the judicial system, after the case was put off for final judgment for almost eight years.
The landlord, Ġiljan Agius, instituted a court case against the tenant, Mark Micallef, in 2002, relating to a property in Sliema. The case was only concluded in 2020.
The two parties had disagreed over interpretation of the rental agreement and the amount due.
The first court ruled against Micallef, ordering him to pay Agius close to €35,000, equivalent to the first year of lease which Micallef had terminated earlier than agreed. An appeal court upheld that judgment in 2020.
Micallef then applied for compensation, saying that as a result of delay for which he was not to blame, he had to pay Agius €50,315 in interest alone.
To make matters worse, the court had limited the use of his own funds throughout the entire period, severely impacting his quality of life. No bank would allow him to borrow money.
Micallef held the State Advocate responsible for damages for having failed to provide a judgment within a reasonable time as protected by the Constitution of Malta and Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights.
The State Advocate argued there was no time limit for the proceedings, otherwise the interests of justice might be prejudiced by extra haste.
Madam Justice Felice observed that the case had been concluded by 2006 and put off for judgment. It was then deferred 23 times until the case was reassigned to a different judge in September 2014, with judgment handed down in January 2015.
An appeal was filed within 10 days but was only heard in December 2019. In June 2020, one of the appeal judges abstained and the final decision came in October.
Madam Justice Felice said judicial proceedings had to be conducted swiftly and without delay. The case did not seem complex at all and did not require 17 years, five months and eight days to be decided.
The unreasonableness, she said, arose from the 23 times the case was deferred for judgment.
She held the state liable for two-thirds of the delay, so Micallef was awarded €33,500, equivalent to two-thirds of the compensation he had requested and an additional €2,000 in moral damages.
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