The Chief Minister Fabian Picardo has defended the use of tax payer’s money to pursue legal action against those who make defamatory comments on social media against his office.
Parliament this week heard that in almost seven years in office Mr Picardo has had six cases taken up by solicitors against residents of Gibraltar in addition to four cases against individuals who are not resident in Gibraltar at a cost of almost £30,000.
This drew flak from the GSD who said Mr Picardo should fund these cases out of his own pocket, prompting feisty exchanges between former party leader Daniel Feetham and the Chief Minister.
Mr Picardo told the House: “It is in the public interest of Gibraltar that its Ministers should defend their professional reputations when confronted with defamatory and untrue with allegations.”
“Too often on social media individuals express themselves without a filter of truth, probity or any understanding of the need to ensure that things they say are not in any way libellous of others.”
He further flagged how, in some of the instances, the matter included threats of violence against him and members of his immediate family.
Additionally, Mr Picardo highlighted how Mr Feetham has, himself, on a number of occasions issued letters before action and even started proceedings and obtained Orders of the Supreme Court in respect of libel proceedings when he held the post of Minister for Justice.
But, in hitting back, Mr Feetham said he paid his own legal fees in respect of these legal proceedings.
“The difference between him and me is that when I have defended my reputation I have put my hand in my pocket and I have paid for it myself,” he explained.
He therefore called on Mr Picardo to justify having the tax payer fund his defamation cases, asserting that this was, after all, a personal claim that his reputation has been damaged as a consequence of a falsehood.
“Because, of course, you cannot defame a government and he knows that and you cannot defame an office holder qua office holder,” Mr Feetham said.
Countering, Mr Picardo said he did not accept that Mr Feetham had paid his own legal fees but if he had he was “completely wrong” to have done so.
He explained: “If he was defamed in the context of the discharge of his office he is entirely entitled to be represented on the tax payers billet for a simple reason; because the defamation is not of the individual…”
“We are defending the reputation of the office of Chief Minister or the ministerial office of any other and when people make allegations which are defamatory and untrue it is absolutely right that they be challenged about that.”
“They would not be making allegations about me in respect of the discharge of my office if I did not hold my office,” he said.