The Malta Independent 23 July 2019, Tuesday

Country’s final criminal libel case, against TMIS editor, dismissed

Sunday, 14 April 2019, 11:30 Last update: about 4 months ago

Criminal libel officially no longer exists, after a Court of Appeal on Friday dismissed the final criminal libel case in the country, which was filed by the Police, on behalf of the Ramblers Association, against the editor of this newspaper David Lindsay.

In a ruling on Friday morning, Judge Edwina Grima took little time in dismissing an appeal against a criminal libel case the Association lost against the Editor of The Malta Independent on Sunday back in March 2017 and almost a whole year since criminal libel was removed from the statute books on 15 May 2018.

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It was two full years ago that the courts dismissed a criminal libel case instituted by the Ramblers Association against Lindsay after the Association decided to call in the police over issues related to a Right of Reply it had sent to the newspaper.

The Ramblers had initiated criminal proceedings against Lindsay over the delayed publication of a Right of Reply.  While the Press Act stipulates that such a right of reply needs to be published within two issues, the reply had eventually been published three months later.

The delay in publication was on account of potentially libellous comments in the right of reply itself, and legal advice had been sought before a decision had eventually been taken to publish the Rambler's letter.

Over the course of court proceedings, it transpired that the Association was not even aware that their reply had, in fact, been published. After this had been pointed out by the courts, the Association nevertheless requested the police to press on with the case because it had not been published within two issues, even though it had been explained that the newspaper had needed to seek legal advice over its potentially libellous contents.

The court considered that Lindsay had explained that the cause of the delay in publishing the Ramblers' reply was the fact that he felt it contained statements that could be defamatory and had sought legal advice before publishing it. The court, after reading the letter, agreed that the comments it contained could be considered as defamatory.

The right to not publish potentially defamatory Rights of Reply is protected under the Press Act.

In his judgment dismissing the case, Magistrate Depasquale pointed out that the right of a person to reply to attacks on their reputation did not extend to permit the person to make defamatory allegations against third parties. He ruled that doing so "is nothing other than an abuse of the right".

Noting that the case had been filed two months after the Association's reply had actually been published, the court had ruled in Lindsay's favour and ordered the plaintiff Association to bear the legal costs of the case.

Lindsay commented yesterday: "Even more inexplicable than resurrecting a criminal libel case under a now defunct law is the fact that an association that calls itself 'The Ramblers' would like to see an environmentalist newspaper editor confined within a prison cell."

Lawyer Peter Fenech represented Lindsay and Police Inspector Nikolai Sant prosecuted.


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