Read this report of a court decision by Judge Joanne Vella Cuschieri yesterday that found that landlords of three interconnected properties in Isla are victims of the state because they have not been allowed to enjoy their property. The court has ordered the state to compensate them for their suffering.
The report will give you a good summary of the facts. I will give you a summary of the summary. The three properties have been merged by their common tenant, the Labour Party, who uses the place as its club for Isla. Because of the way the rent law works the landlords are entitled to a pittance in rent which, in reality, for years the Labour Party hasn’t even paid them. On the basis of repeated decisions by the European Court of Human Rights about complaints made in similar circumstances, the court ordered the state – that’s you and me and our taxes – to compensate them for a reality which the court did nothing to change.
Here are some observations:
Firstly, the court rightly noted that though the state should be able to take away private property and use it for the public interest, that power should be balanced against the basic right we all have to enjoy our property. Neither is the right to property absolute nor is the power of the state to take away private property endless. There needs to be some proportion and the state found that in this case there had not been any.
I would go one further. I don’t know if there ever was a time when town and village political party clubs were in and of themselves a matter of public use. Perhaps there was some public utility when we had more people who could not read and write and had little access to the mechanics of power inside Valletta. Perhaps there was a time when a labourer in Isla or a farmer in Mqabba could only participate in the running of their country if political parties came within metres of their church square to hear their enthusiastic and unquestioning applause.
But if there has ever been such a time, that time is no more. No politics happens in local clubs. They are mostly ħobż biż-żejt joints unlawfully subsidised by the state undercutting ħobż biż-żejt joints that have to pay proper rent in a market skewed in favour of the Labour Party. They are barely ever used as clinics by MPs who conduct their constituency business from their own offices. Sometimes they are used as venues for leadership tours but the notion of retaining private property in case a party leader visits once in a three-year cycle of Sunday party club homilies is certainly disproportionate when the party leader can just as easily rent out the school or the parish hall for such a rare occasion.
Taking a private property away from its rightful owners to turn it into a health centre, or a school, or a police station, or even a public garden may have public utility. Taking a private property to turn it into a party club is in the world today no better than state-perpetrated theft.
Secondly, the Labour Party, in response to this complaint, said that it had nothing to do with the taking away of the property from its owners. The Party was, they argued, an innocent tenant and a beneficiary of government policy. If the landlords had a problem it was with the state not with them. The court disagreed for legal reasons saying that the matter concerned them too and needed to be in the room while the case was heard.
Which is right but not the entire picture. There’s a political reality here which may not be relevant for the court case but is very relevant to the outside world reality we all live in.
This property was taken away from its owners by a Labour Party government and gifted it to the Labour Party. That’s where this started many years ago. In yesterday’s court case a Labour Party government was found in breach of the landlords’ fundamental human rights because it persists in preventing them from enjoying their property for the benefit of the Labour Party.
Also, yesterday the Labour Party government lost a case it knew (because of a mountain of legal precedent) it could never win and will have to pay the landlords a considerable sum in compensation so that the Labour Party does not suffer consequences for living rent free, or nearly so, in Isla.
It is disturbingly cynical and abusive of the Labour Party to insist on its innocence, building Chinese walls within its very soul to justify the human rights abuses it claims it has a right to perpetrate.
There is, no doubt, a legal distinction between the Labour Party government and the Labour Party in and of itself. But in the real world these are the same people. It is the same people who have not only been found guilty of human rights abuse but of benefiting directly from that abuse and of forcing tax payers who would never have any reason to step into the Isla Labour Party club to pay compensation for that abuse.
It should never be the policy of a mainstream political party of a democracy to perpetrate human rights abuses and yet by not giving up the tenancy and allowing the landlords to get back their property the Labour Party is doing just that, turning abuse of power into entitlement.
Third observation: after ordering the state to pay compensation to the landlords for what they have suffered up to yesterday the court declined to order the eviction of the Labour Party so that the landlords could take their houses back. The court said it wasn’t the right court to order such a thing, implicitly recognising that had it been the right court the Labour Party would have gotten such an order.
As I repeatedly insist on this blog, I am no lawyer and the court may technically be entirely correct in ruling this way. But this still doesn’t sit well with me. The court has found that there has been a breach of human rights every time the landlords were prevented from doing anything about being paid little or nothing for the property by the Labour Party. So much so that the court ordered that they are compensated.
And yet, by refusing to evict the Labour Party, the court has implicitly permitted the same abuse it had condemned to resume as of today and to persist until such time, who knows when, that the landlords manage to find another court to order the eviction and all the appeals from such a decision are exhausted. That’s what, another ten years of being deprived of their property?
If a court finds a human rights breach should it not have the power and should it not consequently be obliged to use that power to properly stop the suffering and loss of the victim? Surely, a court which is empowered to recognise past abuse and order the payment of money as compensation for it, should also be able to stop future abuse from happening?
Within the injustice of loss of property in the past is the consequential injustice of loss of property in the future. Within that is the fact that tax payers have to compensate the owners having benefitted in no way from the abuse.
And all of that is within the mother of all Matryoshkas: that even if a judge agrees that the Labour Party is a poorly masked highway man, no one seems willing to deprive it of the loot.