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Court requires ‘best proof’ of the contestation of a debt alleged by a government authority

By March 16, 2018November 24th, 2023No Comments

In line with the principle of the need for sufficient evidence, the Court must see an official copy of a letter of contestation when the alleged amount owed to a government entity for light, electricity and other similar bills is challenged.

This was decreed by Magistrate Dr Francis Depasquale in the case of Automated Revenue Management Services Limited, Enemalta plc u Korporazzjoni ghas-Servizz tal-Ilma vs Ignazio Licari  on the 5th March of 2018. One of the defendant’s pleas, mainly that he had contested the amount owed to the plaintiffs, was not sufficiently proven since the official letter of contestation was not produced in Court. The case centered around the procedures listed in Article 466 of Chapter 12 of the Laws of Malta which describe the special processes available to a government entity to recover a debt.

The Court heard pleas by the defendant who contested the amount that he allegedly owed for three separate bills due to the authorities for light and water, among others. Such authorities relied upon Article 466 in order to recover their debts, which provide for a representative of a government department to sue for the recovery of debt by declaring an oath before a registrar, judge or magistrate where he may state the nature of the debt, the amount and the name of the debtor. This provides access to a special procedure for the recovery of a debt without the need for a lengthy hearing. The Court, however, made a special reference to the provisory addition to the Article which states:

Provided that the provisions of this article shall also apply in respect of amounts due for the supply of water and electricity and for the rental of the relative meters but they shall not apply where prior to the service required under sub-article (2) the person from whom the amount is claimed shall have notified the claimant either by means of a judicial act or by registered post that he is disputing the metering, calculation or the charge in respect of such supply or rental.

The Court stated that, for such a procedure to be availed of, the law required the sum of the debt to be certain, liquidated and due. The defendant claimed that he had sent a judicial letter contesting the amounts, and that therefore, the special procedures could not apply. The Court denied this counterclaim due to the fact that this letter was not produced during the hearing, but rather, the defendant produced an official record published by the Court that a letter was sent to the plaintiff, but the contents of this letter were not proven. The Court held that it is the responsibility of the parties to substantiate their claims by providing the best possible proof for the Courts’ consideration. The Court therefore dismissed this counterclaim and yet still held that the special procedures were not relevant in these circumstances due to other procedural deficiencies on the part of the plaintiff. The Court therefore dismissed the claim by the plaintiffs and ordered all costs to be paid in solidum by them.

Dr Malcolm Mifsud

Mifsud & Mifsud Advocates  

This article may also be accessed on Malta Today.