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News | Wednesday, 10 March 2010 Issue. 154

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Parliamentary committee yet to discuss emphyteusis law

The new parliamentary committee, formed to propose changes to Malta’s outdated laws, is not yet in a position to spell out whether its remit includes the take-up of any anti-Constitutional law referred to parliament by Maltese courts.
The committee is expected to meet for the second time today in order to establish a procedure by which proposals for new or reformed legislation are to be tabled in parliament. Meanwhile, PL MP Josè Herrera, who sits on this committee, last Sunday committed himself to take up in parliament a constitutional court judgement defining Malta’s emphyteusis laws in breach of fundamental human rights.

To sleep or not to sleep
PN MP Franco Debono, who chairs the committee, was yesterday approached by MaltaToday to shed more light on the committee’s expected intervention on laws governing landowners’ rights in emphyteusis contracts.
As it stands, the courts are obliged to pass on to the Speaker of the House any judgements that deem laws anti-constitutional. However, parliament has so far no obligation to update such laws – and this often leads to an accumulation of laws that breach human rights being slept on in parliament.
Addressing the current situation, PL MP Owen Bonnici last January posed a parliamentary question on how many such judgements have been referred to parliament and how many have of these have failed to lead to updates in law over the past 10 years.
Although Herrera promised that he will be discussing the judgement on emphyteusis in the committee, Debono is still not in a position to determine whether it is within the committee’s remit to take on the discussion of all anti-constitutional laws referred to parliament by the courts.
“I do not know whether we will be responsible for taking up the discussion of every law passed on to parliament by the courts, since we are still in the process of setting ourselves a procedure,” Debono said. “We will have to discuss this at committee level.”
The PN MP has also confirmed that since the committee is still in its embryonic phase, the particular judgement on emphyteusis has not yet been taken up, adding that he is aware of the court judgement on the issue.

The injustice in the law
Currently, lessees may take advantage of a law passed by a 1979 Labour government that gives the right of converting a contract of temporary emphyteusis into a permanent one, thus denying landowners the possibility of ever regaining free possession of their property.
The recent development should therefore come as a breath of fresh air to land owners deeming the ordinance unfair. With the recent rent law reform, property owners saw light at the end of the tunnel, but social injustices in the emphiteusis system have so far fallen short of being addressed.
“The idea of the committee is to look at all of Malta’s laws with a view to update antiquated ones,” Debono explained. “My understanding of this specific case is that once it is discussed in the committee, a report is drafted and it is then discussed in parliament.”
Meanwhile, Alternattiva Demokratika Chairman Michael Briguglio augured that if any reform in the emphyteusis law should take place “the same logic as the rent reform should follow.”
He said that the Green Party, which had been campaigning for a reform in Malta’s archaic rent laws for years before government acted on it, “was among the first to come out in agreement with the way reforms to Malta’s rent laws were implemented.”
Explaining how the expected reform of the emphyteusis regime should follow the same path, Briguglio said that “it is important that justice is done to both lessors and lessees”.
“Whatever happens, we need to keep social justice in mind and as much as we don’t want to see the injustice with landowners to continue, we do not want to see people sleeping in the streets either,” he said.

Beyond emphyteusis
Beyond expected reforms in emphyteusis laws, Franco Debono said that the committee will be tackling a number of other issues, such as The Marriage Act, which does not yet form part of the civil code.
“Can we not update prostitution laws too?” he asked. “These should also start forming part of the criminal code.”
Furthermore, Debono seems keen on taking up the Lm600 limit on electoral expenses as per provided by the electoral law.
“In the Galdes report published 10 years ago, Lm600 were already considered too little, let alone now,” he said.
The PN MP promised to propose the introduction of codes for Maritime Laws and Insurance, adding that “the Code of Police Laws is highly outdated”.

Emphyteusis (n): a right, susceptible to assignment and inheritance, charged on productive real estate, and normally coupled with the enjoyment of the property on condition of taking care of the estate and paying taxes, and sometimes the payment of a small rent.



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