Civil society action group Repubblika President Robert Aquilina has pledged to take “all steps necessary” to ensure it is not Magistrate Nadine Lia who hears its case challenging the police and attorney general for their failure to arraign Pilatus Bank senior officials as ordered by a magisterial inquiry.
Aquilina’s comments come after a judge on Friday turned down Repubblika’s request to have Magistrate Lia removed from the case after she refused to recuse herself.
The NGO contends, among a raft of other reasons, that Lia is unsuitable to hear the court challenge since is the daughter-in-law of Pawlu Lia – a Labour Party lawyer and also the lawyer of the former prime minister Joseph Muscat and his chief of staff Keith Schembri.
Repubblika argues the pair of disgraced former politicians have a direct interest in seeing the Pilatus officials not being arraigned and in the case being dropped.
The magistrate’s father-in-law Pawlu Lia is the government’s representative on the Commission for the Administration of Justice, which is responsible for taking disciplinary action against members of the judiciary. He was Muscat’s personal lawyer and has served as the Labour Party’s chief legal advisor.
He had also been the lawyer tasked with setting up the Egrant magisterial inquiry’s terms of reference and served as a lawyer for Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri, who he defended in libel suits dealing with corruption, money laundering and their illicit financial structures in Panama and New Zealand.
This, coupled with the magistrate’s behaviour so far in the case, led Repubblika to request her to recuse herself, as she was evidently too close to proceedings for comfort.
After Lia refused, Repubblika opened a constitutional case seeking her removal and an interim measure from the courts ordered Lia to desist from the case for the time being.
But Madam Justice Audrey Demicoli on Friday dismissed Repubblika’s case, effectively leaving Lia on as the presiding magistrate.
In reaction, Aquilina warned the NGO would take: “all the steps necessary to have a fair hearing and for justice to be served.
“This legal hurdle will not discourage us. We have met many legal hurdles over the past five years but we have always overcome them. A technical hurdle will not stop us from cleansing the country of corruption and abuse.”
Aquilina insisted that Magistrate Lia cannot give a proper hearing on this case, as she has shown on several occasions, and warned: “We are studying this morning’s sentence to take all the necessary steps to have a proper hearing and justice will be done.”
This could suggest the NGO is prepared to take the case further once domestic legal remedies have been exhausted.
He also warned that the judgement implies “civil society does not have a right to a fair hearing under Maltese law”, saying that the court “simply said that Repubblika does not have the right to claim a proper hearing because it does not have victim status in the case”.
Indeed, Madam Justice Audrey Demicoli ruled that the case could lead to criminal proceedings against third parties but not against Repubblika itself. As such, it did not have ‘victim status’ in the case because it was filed in the interest of the public and not private or personal interests.
Moreover, it was ruled that the outcome would not personally and/or privately affect any of the members of Repubblika, which, the court noted, was set up for the interest of the public and not for the private and/or personal interests of its members.