The Court of Appeal presided over by Mr Justice Lawrence Mintoff has thrown out yet another lawsuit filed by a government entity to conceal its media expenditure, bringing the number of cases the appeals court has ruled in The Shift’s favour to 12.
The most recent case was decided earlier this week and concerned the Planning Authority’s court appeal for it to abide by The Shift’s Freedom of Information request and make available details of payments affected to MaltaToday co-owner Saviour Balzan or any of his associated companies since 2013.
The decision is the 12th by the Court of Appeal in The Shift’s favour as it battles 40 different FOI cases that are costing taxpayers tens of thousands of euros in legal fees to bury information on the public funds used in the government’s favour.
Another seven cases are still pending decision, while The Shift continues to battle the rest of the government agencies at the IDPC Appeals Tribunal.
In his latest decision, Judge Mintoff endorsed the decisions of both Information and Data Protection Commissioner Ian Deguara, confirmed by the IDPC Appeals Tribunal presided over by Anna Mallia in their entirety.
The Court ordered the Planning Authority to make all information on the payments available. It reiterated that since the PA is a public entity financed by the public, there is an expectancy from the general public of good governance and transparency.
When it first received the FOI request, the Planning Authority said it had no such documents, but an IDPC investigation found the information was available.
Planning Authority lawyer Melanie Sammut had argued in court that if The Shift did not want to go through another lengthy legal process, it should stop asking questions.
This was described by The Shift’s lawyers, BCGL Advocates, as an affront to transparency and a confirmation of the government’s aim of trying to cripple The Shift financially.
International media freedom organisations have said the cases constitute SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) action. They have called on the government to drop the cases, as has MEP David Casa – who led a resolution in the European Parliament that backed the call for the cases to be dropped.
The Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner also said the 40 legal challenges filed by the government against The Shift send a “chilling message” to other newsrooms not to pursue legitimate questions on public expenditure.
SLAPPs are, in simple terms, vexatious lawsuits intended to silence a newsroom or to make the costs of fighting court cases so high that newsrooms are forced to surrender them or withdraw material from publication. If they choose to fight back, they risk being shut down.
The Shift fought back thanks to reader donations, pro bono work from BCGL Advocates and international organisations supporting legal defence work against such abuse.
All 12 government entities that have lost their last-ditch efforts to SLAPP The Shift will now be obliged to provide the requested information.
They have also been ‘slapped’ back by being ordered by Judge Mintoff to cover all the legal expenses from both the Information and Data Protection Tribunal states of the cases as well as those incurred before the Court of Appeal.
Well done for ‘right to know’.
They have no shame.
Brain Dead they are.
Well done Shift.
Our donations are for our democratic interests.
With the information coming out on the big government projects it is becoming very clear that, as stakeholders with our taxes, we have the right to accountability and transparency.
Well done. I verita u is sewwa jirbhu zgur
So good to hear, bit by bit their Omerta is being broken. prosit.
Keep up the good work