Civil society activist group Repubblika will be submitting a formal complaint to the Commission for the Administration of Justice against Magistrate Nadine Lia over a breach of the judiciary’s code of ethics.
The magistrate’s father-in-law, lawyer Pawlu Lia, coincidentally, is the government’s representative on the Commission, which deals with such complaints against members of the judiciary. Repubblika on Wednesday called for the substitution of lawyer Pawlu Lia as the government’s representative on the Commission, claiming a conflict of interest because he counts former prime minister Joseph Muscat as a client, amongst his many clients in positions of power.
“We have before us a judge who is being hostile towards us,” Repubblika said on Friday. “Now even what we and journalists witnessed in the courtroom is being turned upside down by Magistrate Lia.”
“We regret that Magistrate Nadine Lia has adopted this type of behaviour, which is not worthy of a judicial system in a democratic society.”
The case concerns Repubblika’s accusation of dereliction of duty by the police for having failed to charge Pilatus Bank’s directors a year-and-a-half down the road since a magisterial inquiry concluded such a course of action should be taken.
The civil society group has been at odds with the magistrate since practically day one of the case. It also intends taking the case to the constitutional court after Magistrate Lia had refused their request for her to recuse herself from a case and for refusing to have her father-in-law Pawlu Lia – the lawyer of former disgraced prime minister Joseph Muscat and his former and similarly disgraced chief of staff Keith Schembri – testify in her courtroom.
Repubblika’s move to take its complaints before the Commission comes in the wake of a decree issued by the magistrate concerning the events of 15 September, when the magistrate had cited an anonymous ‘threatening letter’ she had received and abruptly postponed, in a hearing that lasted under one minute, the controversial Pilatus Bank case until 27 October.
Repubblika insists the hearing lasted less than a minute in all and that the magistrate ignored lawyers’ requests to even “say a word.
“Everyone present in the courtroom was surprised by how the hearing was held,” Repubblika President Robert Aquilina said at the time.
“It only lasted a few seconds. Neither we nor our lawyer were allowed to say a word, even though we clearly indicated we had something to say.”
But in her decree published on Thursday, Magistrate Lia had quite a different take on the situation. She insisted that no one had made a request “addressed to the court” to make a statement, contrary to Azzopardi’s and Repubblika’s claims.
She explained how the hearing had been scheduled for 9.35am but all had not been present at the time so she went ahead and heard other cases first.
On the date in question, Magistrate Lia explained, she had to attend to a work-related matter, the courtroom was informed of this and the sittings were suspended “for a few minutes”. She said that when she returned to the courtroom, the plaintiffs, Repubblika) and their lawyer (Jason Azzopardi) had already left and were not seen again.
“When we read the magistrate’s decree, we were shocked,” Repubblika said on Friday. “The decree contains many affirmations by Magistrate Lia that absolutely do not correspond to what we saw happen with our own eyes and what we experienced during that hearing.”
The group has also filed in court the affidavits of Robert Aquilina, Alessandra Dee Crespo and Manuel Delia, who were present in the courtroom that day, and who gave a detailed account, under oath, of what had transpired, which, Repubblika said, “contrasts greatly with the content of Magistrate Nadine Lia’s decree”.
Repubblika also presented copies of news reports from outlets that had reporters in the courtroom that day and who had all reported that Repubblika’s lawyer Jason Azzopardi had actually told the court that he wanted to make a statement “but he was silenced by the court”.
“Before Magistrate Lia, Repubblika can never have a proper hearing on its challenge against the police,” the group said on Friday.
“Accordingly, we will have to resort to other steps to ensure that Magistrate Lia’s abusive behaviour does not continue to make a farce of our country’s judicial system.”