The media has been banned from reporting on the ongoing criminal cases brought by the police against an estranged couple who are both working as members of the judiciary.
Following reports by The Shift last week about criminal cases involving Magistrate Nadine Lia and her estranged husband, Justice Commissioner Alessandro Lia, a lawyer representing the accused magistrate, has asked The Shift to remove articles about her client due to a court ban.
According to Lara Dimitrijevic from Sciberras Associates Advocates law firm, the court presided over by Magistrate Lara Lanfranco accepted Magistrate Lia’s plea for a media gag and banned reporters from following ongoing procedures against the magistrate and her estranged husband.
Dimitrijevic did not reply to questions asking for a copy of the court’s decree, which The Shift was not informed about, and to explain whether it was her client who had requested the ban.
Neither did she state when asked on what legal basis the court had ordered such a ban.
The Shift’s lawyers informed Dimitrijevic that while its newsroom was not informed about any such ban, it had not reported any of the proceedings inside the courtroom, and, as such, the ban did not pertain to the articles published.
The Shift’s legal team also made it clear to the magistrate’s lawyer that while it fully respects decisions taken by the court, it would not be removing any of the articles published about the acrimonious feud, which has been seen affecting the administration of justice.
Legal experts told The Shift said that while the court has every right to order such a ban, even though it is only applied in particular circumstances, such as to protect the identity of children, the media and the public must be informed about it through the registrar.
“According to the law, such a decree also has to be fixed on the court’s notice board for it to become valid,” a senior lawyer told The Shift, insisting that this was not the case until last week’s session.
The Shift reported how despite calls upon Chief Justice Mark Chetcuti and Justice Minister Jonathan Attard to take preventive measures so the criminal cases the Lias have filed against each other will not continue to affect unrelated third parties through court deferrals, recusals and other delaying problems, no concrete measures have been taken so far to avert the impasse.
While the magistrate and her justice commissioner husband are fighting it out through court procedures, unrelated cases are being postponed due to recusals by the magistrate claiming a conflict of interest resulting from her personal cases.
According to the online public court system, the last working session held by Magistrate Lia dates back to 20 July, the only one held in the last fortnight.
No sessions listing Justice Commissioner Alessandro Lia appear to have been held in the last month.
The Chief Justice has powers at law to remove Magistrate Lia’s cases and assign them to other members of the Judiciary to ensure that the course of justice is not affected by the personal problems of a sitting member of the judiciary.
However, neither the chief justice nor the justice minister has taken any such measures despite increasing pressure from the other members of the judiciary.