My navigation through Malta's upside down legal and administrative jurisdictions continues apace with yet another dizzying encounter with the Maltese Justice system.
It all began on the 16th May, 2022, when our mum’s downstairs neighbours were granted a precautionary garnishee order in the amount of €50 000 against our mother, my brother, my sister and I. This meant that every bank account belonging to the four of us was frozen to the tune of €50 000. Collectively this therefore meant the freezing of circa €500 000. (€50 000 multiplied by circa 10 bank accounts.)
A PRECAUTIONARY garnishee order is a legal tool for a plaintiff to be able to apply to the courts for a freezing of assets / money before the outcome of a court case initiated by them is known. This money is deposited in court, pending the outcome of the court case. A precautionary garnishee order does not depend on the merits of the case. The idea is that the defendant is taken unawares and is not able to hide any assets or funds. So, in this case there is no time for the court to explore the merits of the case. The plaintiff has to simply show a prima facie case. In other words, the plaintiff needs to show that, on the face of it, they are owed a sum of money by the defendant. Of course, this means that the bar on the evidence provided is low. The merits of the case will be explored in the court case initiated by the plaintiff and is a completely separate matter to the precautionary garnishee order. If the plaintiff wins the court case when the case has been decided, possibly years later, then the money is transferred to the plaintiff. If, on the other hand, the plaintiff loses, then the money is returned to the defendant. Presumably there are also judgements which would award the plaintiff some of the deposited money but not all.
You may remember that our ex landlord, Mr Francis Cachia Caruana, applied a precautionary garnishee order against my salary and my bank accounts in August 2013 when we refused to continue OVERpaying on the incorrect Arms tariff. We spent 5 months without bank accounts and my salary reduced to the minimum wage. That year we bought our Christmas presents for our sons aged 5 and 8 on Christmas Eve. Two years later Mr Cachia Caruana did not win the court case. The judgement was that both Mr Cachia Caruana and myself were to share the cost of the Arms arrears because both of us should have known about the Arms domestic / residential tariff confusion. I do not agree with this judgement because Mr Cachia Caruana had been a landlord for years whilst we had only been in the country for 10 days before we signed the rental contract. But this is not the point. The point is that Mr Cachia Caruana did not win the case. While we were enduring financial hardship and lack of access to our bank accounts, he was living the life of Reilly without a care in the world. And then he didn’t win the case.
Before I returned to my country of birth after an absence of 21 years, I had never even heard of a precautionary garnishee order. I’ve been subject to two in the twelve years since my return. I have witnessed high profile cases of precautionary garnishee orders against journalists, primarily against assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. Malta must be doing something wrong for precautionary garnishee orders to be applied so easily. Either the wording of Article 831 of Chapter 12 of the Laws of Malta must be amended or Article 831 is being misinterpreted by some judges. How can being punished before the case is heard ever be just? Seven months without access to our bank accounts and our salaries reduced to the minimum wage certainly feels like a punishment. Daphne Caruana Galizia was on her way to the bank to discuss the precautionary garnishee orders against her when she was assassinated. As a family we would fulfil our financial obligations in the event of a judgement against us. Where is the evidence of us being bad debtors? What sanction will there be against the plaintiffs if they lose the case? What redress would we have if we win the case? Are we convicted criminals to be punished in this way?