Court upholds prohibitory injunction against permanent secretary for education, MCAST

Court judgement urges education authorities to make amends with lecturer instead of ‘playing with words’

 

The court has upheld a prohibitory injunction against a decision to demote MCAST lecturer Peter Gatt and bar him access to the campus.

The closure of this court case follows a struggle lasting months between Gatt and the MCAST administration. Since Gatt was dismissed in June, his claims have been backed by an investigation by the commissioner of education at the Ombudsman’s office.

In its conclusions on the most recent case, the civil court criticised the permanent secretary at the education ministry, Frank Fabri, as well as MCAST’s principal James Calleja for failing to obey previous court orders that had already established Gatt’s right to be reinstated following his unfair dismissal.

In its second judgement on Gatt’s attempts to halt efforts to transfer him against his will, the civil court focused on Calleja’s and Fabri’s attempts at arguing that they are not responsible for the decision.

“While the defendants attempted to try and play around with the differences between words like ‘deployment’ and ‘transfer’, for this court it is clear that which the complainant was seeking to inhibit the defendants from doing was to stop any action which could have prejudiced his position as MCAST lecturer,” Judge Joanne Vella Cuschieri stated.

“Given that the first court’s mandate declared that the complainant should not be transferred to any other school with the defendants claiming that the institutions did not qualify as schools, it is necessary for this court to clarify this prohibition as well as approving this mandate to make it clear that there should be no other attempt at transfers or deployment of the complainant,” the Judge added.

Calleja and Philip Vella, the deputy principal, argued against being held accountable for the decision, saying it was made in the name of MCAST. And Fabri from the education ministry, together with Joyce Cassar from the office of the prime minister, also attempted to deflect responsibility by arguing that such a decision would be taken directly by the prime minister.

The court discarded these arguments pointing out that, given Peter Gatt’s employment with the education ministry, the decisions relating to the revocation of his post as a senior lecturer would fall under their collective responsibility. “It is necessary that the defendants quit attempting to play around with words to find some way of evading the court’s orders,” the court ruled.

“If the preoccupation of the defendants is that the complainant is presently receiving a paycheque without working for it, this can be easily resolved by, pending any future judgement, giving him a lecturer position at MCAST as he was previously doing for several years without prejudication over the final judgement on the issue.”

Just a day after the court had confirmed Gatt’s request for a warrant of prohibitory injunction, to halt what amounted to a demotion following orders to be transferred to Pembroke’s secondary school, Calleja sent a letter to Gatt dated 22 June through which Gatt was informed that he was barred from entering the MCAST campus as he was no longer considered to be a member of the staff.

Letter to MCAST senior Dr Peter Gatt from principal James Calleja, dated a day after the court ordered the college to stop its ‘vindictive’ treatment of the lecturer

Calleja also issued orders to affix a notice on every campus entrance bearing Gatt’s image and a note for security officers to bar him from entering the campus or communicating with his students.

On 22 October, The Shift reported how the authorities later claimed that the very same letter sent to Gatt was “an exploratory communication” and that they were not attempting to ignore court orders despite clear evidence suggesting otherwise.

Memo barring Peter Gatt’s entry to MCAST

The court, which had already described the original orders issued by Calleja in Gatt’s regard as “vindictive”, had ordered Gatt’s reinstatement on 21 June. The civil court not only reinforced the call for Gatt’s reinstatement but also called out the education authorities’ attempts at claiming that Gatt’s revocation from his post was not “capricious in intent”.

“The court cannot help but observe that such an altruistic intent on MCAST’s behalf is certainly dampened, if not irreversibly stained, by the fact that through their decisions, the complainant would be set back in terms of his salary scale as a teacher in Pembroke’s school, in spite of the calibre and competencies they say the complainant has,” the ruling states.

                           
                               
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