Judge upholds ‘Clouseau’ libel for dismissed FIAU man

Judge dismisses MaltaToday appeal in libel case filed by former police inspector Jonathan Ferris objection to ‘Inspector Clouseau’ allusion over his role in investigating 2013 oil scandal

A judge has dismissed an appeal filed by MaltaToday director Saviour Balzan to a decision in a libel case by former police inspector Jonathan Ferris over comments Balzan made in a 2017 video blog.

Balzan had likened Ferris, who had been dismissed from his analyst post at the FIAU, to the fictional character ‘Inspector Clouseau’, over his conduct in the 2013 oil scandal investigation and for having investigated his own uncle, Ray Ferris, in connection with the case.

The appeal was decided by Mr Justice Lawrence Mintoff.

Ferris’s libel claim was first upheld by Magistrate Victor Axiak in March 2002, ordering €3,000 in moral damages to be paid to the plaintiff.

Balzan appealed, arguing that his comments were based on substantial truth and constituted fair comment. He said the allusion to the fictional, incompetent police investigator served to stress that the oil scandal investigations had led nowhere with no convictions. He insisted he did not imply that Ferris had been negligent in his duties, and argued that in a democracy, this amounted to justifiable criticism; he said public servants were subject to much a higher level of scrutiny than an ordinary citizenm and had to accept responsibility when the results expected of his post were not achieved.

Mr. Justice Lawrence Mintoff ruled that Balzan’s comment, to the effect that no progress in the Enemalta oil scandal had been made, was unjustified in view of the message the investigations had sent to those who expected impunity for their actions.

“In truth, the appellant was not only stating the facts, but was also expressing his opinion and making remarks about [Ferris] and his work,” the judge said, saying it was not fair comment to say Ferris had to bear some responsibility for the fact that he did not achieve what he had hoped, particularly when it emerges that in a number of these cases, proceedings were halted after letters rogatory were sent abroad and the cooperation of authorities in other countries were required to allow the investigations to continue.

The judge ruled that the Inspector Clouseau comparison had been intended to ridicule and denigrate Ferris “who despite all the work he did, did not bring the investigation to a conclusion.”

The judge confirmed the amount of compensation awarded to Ferris.