Chief Justice Mark Chetcuti has so far refrained from taking remedial action in the interest of the administration of justice as a growing legal battle between an estranged couple – a Magistrate and a lawyer/Commissioner for Justice – is leading to delays and postponements in the courts.
Senior court sources, including members of the judiciary, speaking informally to The Shift, said that the delicate situation involving the estranged couple – Magistrate Nadine Lia and Commissioner for Justice Alessandro Lia – needs to be tackled by the Chief Justice and the Justice Minister because it is now reaching unacceptable levels.
“Without entering into the merits of the litigation between the couple, which has already led to criminal charges being filed against both of them, the issue is now leading to court delays. This is unacceptable,” one senior member of the judiciary said.
“In the interest of the administration of justice, both the Chief Justice and the Justice Minister have the power to intervene, but for some unexplained reason, this has not happened, and the problem is growing,” another member of the judiciary told The Shift.
Despite their ongoing and highly acrimonious litigation before Magistrate Lara Lanfranco, who is assigned cases of domestic violence, neither Magistrate Lia nor her estranged husband Alessandro Lia have stepped back from their duties and have continued with their work.
While Magistrate Lia continues to hear cases, Alessandro Lia continues to act as a government-appointed Commissioner for Justice while also appearing as a defence lawyer before other members of the judiciary.
As an example of how the situation is taking a toll on court proceedings, Magistrate Lia last week had to recuse herself from a case because one of the parties’ lawyers is defending her husband against her before Magistrate Lanfranco.
Alessandro Lia has, meanwhile, had to ask for another magistrate’s recusal from a different case after claiming the magistrate was a friend of his estranged wife.
“This is a farce that needs a solution. It is unfair that litigation between a couple, no matter what it is about, prevents common citizens from obtaining justice as efficiently as possible. An intervention is justified and already late,” one senior lawyer familiar with the situation said.
According to the law, Chief Justice Mark Chetcuti has the power to remove cases from Magistrate Lia until her personal issues are settled. This has been done before in other instances by other Chief Justices.
In the case of Alessandro Lia, Justice Minister Jonathan Attard can suspend him from his duties as a Commissioner for Justice. Veteran lawyers speaking to The Shift have also questioned how he has not suspended himself from the role until he is cleared, considering the nature of the charges he is facing before Magistrate Lanfranco.
But nothing, so far, has been done and the wheels of justice are, according to sources in legal circles, being clogged on a daily basis.
The issue becomes even more complicated when considering that Alessandro Lia’s father, veteran lawyer Pawlu Lia, who has served as Labour’s main lawyer for the past decades, is also a member of the Commission for the Administration of Justice.
This Commission has the power to investigate and recommend the impeachment of members of the judiciary, which naturally includes his daughter-in-law.
While many have for years been critical of Lia’s position on the Commission, insiders of legal circles have suggested that is the reason neither the Chief Justice nor the Justice Minister has taken any form of action to at least temporarily mitigate the impasse.
In addition to serving as Justice Commissioner, Alessandro Lia, through his close connections with the government, also has a number of other government appointments, including as one of Labour’s representatives on the Broadcasting Authority board.