An unsavoury situation that legal experts are expressing no small amount of concern over has developed at the courts of justice, with a sitting magistrate herself currently facing criminal charges.
The Shift is informed the case concerns Magistrate Nadine Lia, who was arraigned last Thursday before Magistrate Lara Lanfranco and accused of threatening and insulting her estranged husband.
Beyond the merits of the case, legal exper ts speaking to The Shift have expressed their opinion that with the case now adjourned until July, the magistrate will, in the interim, be presiding over criminal cases when she is the subject of criminal charges herself.
Many in the country’s legal circles are now asking why the magistrate hasn’t voluntarily suspended herself from her duties or why the Chief Justice has not taken any remedial action to preserve the proper administration of justice.
Questions sent to Chief Justice Mark Chetcuti asking whether he intends to suspend Magistrate Lia from her duties until the case is concluded have so far remained unanswered.
Members of the judiciary are meant to be beyond reproach in all aspects of their lives and, if they are to mete out judgment on others.
But over and above that, some lawyers may find themselves in the awkward position of going up against the magistrate in her personal case one day while they may find themselves facing her the next day as the magistrate presiding over other criminal cases they are representing.
The fact that Magistrate Lia has not already temporarily stepped down from duties until she is acquitted or otherwise indicates she has no intention of doing so.
She has been known to stand her ground in the past, such as in her refusal to recuse herself from the case NGO Repubblika filed against the Commissioner of Police for the corps’ failure to arraign Pilatus Bank officials despite a magisterial inquiry into the shady bank having recommended the course of action.
The NGO contends, among a raft of other reasons, that Lia is unsuitable for hearing the court challenge since she 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.
The pair of disgraced former members of government, it argues, have a direct interest in seeing the Pilatus officials not being prosecuted and the case being dropped.
The magistrate’s father-in-law Pawlu Lia is, moreover, 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 adviser.
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.
The magistrate is also known to be close to the Labour Party. Before being appointed magistrate, Lia was a legal adviser for the economy ministry and the Family Business Act committee chairperson under former minister Chris Cardona.
He also represented Cardona in libel cases against Daphne Caruana Galizia concerning his visit to his, alleged, German brothel.
Cardona had dropped the case when the time came to produce data from mobile phone companies showing his locations in Germany – where he was attending a conference in his capacity of economy minister – on the dates and times in question.
Repubblika had brought the case for her recusal to the Constitutional, which dismissed it earlier this week, meaning the case should continue before Magistrate Lia. The NGO has, however, pledged to continue fighting for her recusal before the European Court of Human Rights.