I promised I would let you know when I decided whether to go ahead with an appeal from a court decision not to hear my free speech complaint about an earlier court decision which ordered me to compensate another journalist €1,000 for the way I reacted to his suggestion that the state had nothing to do with Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder.
The one above, I admit, is not one of my best drafted sentences ever. It’s hard to summarise a legal saga that started with a blog post I uploaded four years ago tomorrow. That blog post wasn’t about Raphael Vassallo (the journalist I had to compensate) at all, at least not principally. I was trying to explain why we need an anti-mafia law which is something that with some friends we’ve been trying to put on the national agenda since Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed in a mafia car bomb.
I was trying to make the point that the mafia thrives on influential people (including journalists) saying it doesn’t exist. I cited a particularly obnoxious article by Raphael Vassallo from a few months before. He sued me. He lost. He appealed. He won. And I was ordered to pay a fine for something I said about a public figure.
What I said and why I said it was a matter settled by the Appeals Court. I didn’t like the decision but that was that.
But the consequence of that settlement is far more serious, I think, than annoyance at losing a court case. The Appeals Court decision basically amounted to a warning to anyone in my situation that they would be fined and that was just the way it was going to be.
Imagine that, I argued. You use hyperbole when making a justified value judgement about a public figure with unutilised means to respond to you and if they don’t like it you must pay them your income that month. How’s that for ‘shut up or else’?
The constitutional court never examined whether I was right about that. It said rather that it would not hear the case because what I was actually doing was filing an appeal from an appeal which is not allowed. For my argument to be considered I must now convince a higher court that I wasn’t appealing from an appeal (and I’m not now appealing from an appeal from an appeal).
I’m merely seeking a court to declare that the state has no business stinging people for expressing legitimate, even if hurtful, opinions about public figures.
The last few days I had to choose between dropping the matter or going on with it. I decided to go on with it. Any issues with Raphael Vassallo have been long since forgotten. And the damage I had to pay, I’ve paid and the show went on. Any personal rancour over this has long been replaced by rancour over other things.
Still, allowing the case to drop would be a bit hypocritical for someone who goes on about free speech all the time. I can’t fight all battles, and I can win even less, but this one – finding a way of reversing a court decision which has a chilling effect on anyone writing an opinion in this country – this battle is mine to fight. Only I can appeal from the case I lost.
And I have. The case was filed yesterday. My unforgivably patient lawyers Therese Comodini Cachia, Eve Borg Costanzi, Andrew Borg Cardona, and Matthew Cutajar will not bill me.
If you agree this is worth fighting and you’re inclined to help with the court costs, you know what to do. Thank you.