On the 13th of October 2022, the Malta Court of Appeals made its decision regarding a contentious case centred, yet again, around the government’s right to expropriate land.

The summarised conclusion of the Court is that the Malta Playing Fields Association had land in Ta’ Xbiex unlawfully expropriated from it by the government in 2008.

The Court therefore ordered that the Royal Malta Yacht Club vacate the premises by December 2022.

This decade-long case involved several court cases and parties. The plaintiff was represented by two lawyers from Refalo Advocates, namely Dr. Mark Refalo and Dr. Manuel Galea.

In this article, we’ll summarise some of the salient points of this chronicle.

A legal entity on a mission to safeguard its property rights

In August 2002, the Malta Playing Fields Association was given a 49-year emphyteusis by the Maltese Government over land in Ta’ Xbiex. This land was expropriated by the government just six years later. In 2009, the Lands Commissioner passed on the land to the Royal Malta Yacht Club through a 49-year emphyteusis.

Claiming the expropriation to be illegal, the Malta Playing Fields Association took the Lands Commissioner et al to court. In 2014, the Civil Court decided in favour of the plaintiff, a decision which was confirmed by the Constitutional Court of Malta a year later.

These decisions led to various appeals being filed separately by the Royal Malta Yacht Club, the Lands Authority, and SportMalta.

This case featured prominently in the media, not least due to the premises’ current use at a sailing school and a base of operations for the Rolex Middle Sea Race.

A just and sound court decision

In its statement, the Court of Appeal found the arguments brought about by the Royal Malta Yacht Club to be made up of sophisms and wordplay. It also found several faults in the arguments made by the Lands Authority and SportMalta.

As a result, the three judges sitting on the Court of Appeal denied all three appeals and confirmed that the Royal Malta Yacht Club has two months in which to vacate the premises and return them to the Malta Playing Fields Association. It also confirmed that each entity that brought about an appeal is responsible for paying its own costs.

The decision by the court proves, yet again, that the government does not have unlimited rights to expropriate private land. The right to enjoy property is enshrined in the Maltese Constitution as well as the EU Human Rights Convention, so any expropriation on the basis of national interest must be thoroughly justified.

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