Malta ordered to pay €500,000 to heirs over Valletta properties

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

The Maltese state has been ordered to pay €500,000 to the noble Marshall and Ramsay Pergola families by the European Court of Human Rights.

The Human Rights Court found violations to the right to enjoyment of property and right to fair hearing in account of the excessive length of proceedings.

The applicants complained of the ineffectiveness of constitutional redress proceedings, in relation to both a breach of their property rights and to the length of proceedings which had been upheld domestically.

Marshall and Ramsay Pergola who are heirs of the Scicluna estate, are owners of a real estate property which for decades has been subject to a leas under a “protected rent” regime.

The applicants are owners of commercial properties in St George’s Square and Strait Street, Valletta. The properties in St George’s Square were leased to Scicluna’s Bank for ten years while the premises on Strait Street were incorporated into the lease contract for use by Scicluna’s Bank which was to be renewed every year.

Scicluna’s Bank was merged with the National Bank of Malta Ltd, and the contract of lease was renewed. The lease contracts stipulated that the bank would be used as the seat of Scicluna’s Bank and that it could not be sublet or used for other purposes.

The National Bank of Malta was nationalised in 1974 by the Maltese government. The applicants had objected to the transfer, considering it a breach of contract. In 1989, the applicants filed a case before the civil court in order to regain possession of the property.

In constitutional redress proceedings, which began in November 2010, the first-instance court found in February 2016 that there had been a violation of Article 6 of the Convention owing to the duration of the civil proceedings and a breach of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention owing to the derisory rent they had received, awarding the applicants one million euros. On appeal, the Constitutional Court upheld the first-instance judgment on the merits but reduced the compensation to EUR 25,000. In its decision, the Court of Appeal found that the lease in favour of the Bank was protected under Chapter 69 until 2028.

The applicants complained of a lack of redress, of overly lengthy proceedings and of the absence of an effective remedy in conjunction to both provisions.

€500,000 for pecuniary damage and €16,000 for costs and expenses were awarded to the applicants jointly, payable by the state within three months of the judgement. The court dismissed a claim for non-pecuniary damage.

The ECHR Chamber was made up of Paul Lemmens as President, and Georgios A. Serghides, Alena Poláčková, María Elósegui, Gilberto Felici, Erik Wennerström, and Lorraine Schembri Orland as Judges.