Let’s start from the first principles: the SLAPP suit served on Jason Azzopardi by the owner of shuttered Sata Bank is ridiculous on so many fronts that I’m moved to break my rule that I won’t criticise colleagues, even those in other jurisdictions.
The lawyer who signed the writ, or whatever they call it in Bulgaria, should have his competence examined and licence to practise law reviewed by her regulator. There are some cases that are so blatantly idiotic that no self-respecting brief should lend a signature to them. At least, those are the ethical standards in which I was brought up.
The suit is ludicrous, and here’s why.
In the first place, Georgiev is suing Azzopardi for something said in parliament, which the Media and Defamation Act specifically renders immune from action.
A more blatant breach of Malta’s sovereign public policy I can hardly imagine, meaning that Azzopardi can quite safely use the writ with which he was served as rough paper on which to jot down his thoughts about crime and punishment or bribery and corruption or whatever subjects to which he could profitably turn his mind.
Not even the most literal-minded Maltese judge would ignore the immunity of parliamentarians if asked to enforce a foreign court judgement given in these circumstances.
In the second place, the suit was filed later than one year after Azzopardi’s remarks in the House, which renders it time-barred under Maltese law, this in itself tending towards the argument that if the Bulgarian Court awards Georgiev damages, the judgement would be unenforceable because prescription is a matter of public policy and therefore a barrier to enforcement.
In the third place, Georgiev’s suit ignores the facts, well known enough for me not to bother having to regurgitate them here.
In fact, his idiotic lawyer, if the translation is accurate, apparently used the phrase “untrue facts”, proving beyond the threshold of reasonable doubt that he or she has suckled at the teat of Trumpism and been nourished by it.
Not to put too fine a point on it, facts are facts, and by definition they are true, however inconvenient they may be.
The ‘alternate reality’ manner of doing politics is not, of course, limited to the oaf Trump, and in the relative micro-context of Malta, it has been slavishly adopted by Robert Abela’s space-time continuum seamlessly from his predecessor’s.
In the fourth place, there is an argument that even without the considerations put forward above, Georgiev’s suit is contrary to the public policy of Malta and any resulting judgement unenforceable.
This latter argument might be seen as undermining the push being made by many, including myself, to persuade Abela to introduce real anti-SLAPP legislation (as opposed to some sort of lash-up consisting in throwing money at the problem without actually solving it).
I agree, it does.
I’ve been told, in no uncertain terms, by a jurist whose credentials are light years cubed superior to mine, that it is more than clear that libel suits filed against Maltese operators anywhere but in Malta do not qualify for enforcement in Malta because the way they are filed, the reason they are filed, the barriers to fighting them and the damages sought are completely beyond the pale.
Again, I agree, but media operators are generally reluctant to take this very proper advice and simply ignore suits filed against them. They know that when a judgement in default is delivered against them, they would have to rely on a Maltese judge taking on board the “contrary to public policy” argument, and it is not a given that they would happen upon a judge who would ignore the letter of the law and apply its spirit.
That is what establishing compliance with public policy rules would require, going beyond what lies on the statute books and applying – yes, you guessed it – the spirit underlying the rule of law.
This would, indeed, lead to suits filed by people who want us to shut up, lie back and think of England while they have their way with us being thrown out for the bullying tactics that they are, but media operators would prefer our government to show its mettle.
So out of an abundance of caution, I tend towards preferring it to be made clear to even the most literal-minded of judges that SLAPP suits are simply not on.
Jason Azzopardi had given Owen Bonnici a Bill that achieved this in short and sweet order, but Bonnici, for reasons so obvious that I won’t insult your intelligence by repeating them, refused to take it forward.
Bonnici cited our EU obligations, if memory serves, even though he was – or should have been – fully aware that this was balderdash. It was, is and remains balderdash, and EU exponents have said so, too, so Abela has no reason not to go forward, now that he has dispensed with Bonnici in Justice.