News that judges and magistrates attended an event hosted by the Malta Film Commission has caused no uproar, despite implications that have either flown over people’s heads or simply been ignored.
The thing is, the xalata grates on so many levels that it can’t be left on the “u iva, where’s the harm?” shelf. It’s not a case of “If you go down to the woods today, the teddy bears have their picnic”. These are judges and magistrates, ranking in the highest echelons of society.
The Times of Malta reported they were “treated to a tour of the Gladiator 2 set by the Malta Film Commission, complete with a lunch and quiz testing their knowledge of the history of shooting film in the country”.
In every case where the Malta Film Commission, that paragon of transparent and upright administration of the public’s millions, is involved, the presiding beak now has to be asked by the legal beagles appearing before them whether they had been “treated to a lunch” by the Commission.
If the answer is ‘yes’, the magistrate or judge has to step down. No ifs, no buts, no maybes.
Actually, even if it is in the negative, the magistrate or judge should be asked whether s/he concerned harbours sympathetic feelings towards the Commission arising from its largesse towards the judiciary.
Which must have been the point when you think about it. Why else would a bunch of squares be bussed around assorted film sets and wined and dined?
OK, this might lead to the case not being heard until a new presider is appointed from outside the current crop of the judiciary. Still, the law of (un)intended consequences applies to all, however exalted they may be.
Moving along, what in the name of all that’s holy was the judiciary doing cooperating with this sort of gaslighting?
The justification given for disrupting film operations is that the people traipsing around the set in their size nines are influential types who can promote the film industry in Malta. That’s why the Film Commission reserves the right to have tours in the first place. Johann Grech’s self-aggrandising and general preening have nothing to do with it. Of course not. Just like his IMDB entries are not his own doing.
Judges and magistrates have no influence whatsoever and play no role at all in promoting the film industry. One wonders whether they even go to the movies.
So what were the people whose dignity and exalted state are protected by the very law itself doing participating in this junket?
When you are elevated to the Bench to sit in judgment over your fellow citizens, your superior intellect and sense of right and wrong have been acknowledged by the State, and you’re assumed to know what is right and wrong.
By what measure was this thing right, then? Oh well, “they seemed to enjoy it a lot”, poor dears, said one of The Times’ sources. So that’s all right then.
Which leads us neatly into another area of debate.
The Code of Ethics requires judiciary members to act with dignity, allowing them to be held in high esteem by those over whom they sit in judgment.
Where does letting yourself be reported as having taken part in and enjoyed – a lot – a pop quiz that seems to have been something akin to singing for your lunch lie in the scale of dignified activities?
Being po-faced commentators is not something that we at The Shift aspire to: We are fully aware that there are members of the judiciary who do not and have not acted (and will continue not to act) in the dignified manner expected.
They are human, after all, even if they are supposed to be of a more evolved strain of humanity. In the dim, dark recesses of our collective memory, there is a glimmer of a recollection that there was a similar excursion organised in the past. But what was stupid then doesn’t gain righteousness by the mere passage of time, is all we can say.
What this jolly little jolly has led to, however, is the whole corps of the judicature (and we purposely did NOT write ‘corpse’ despite the pun being almost irresistible) being held up to the public – by the Film Commission’s PR people no less – as a bunch of folks who will tag along for a free meal, even if it means having to scribble a few multiple choice guesses to pay for it.
Dignity, you say? If only justice could be dispensed by multiple choice quizzing, we imagine some people thinking.
From what we were told, the Judicial Studies Committee organised the tour, and it didn’t even bother to answer questions put to it by The Times. This allows us to fly the kite, for instance, that the whole thing was put up to soften the Commission’s image with the people who might be called to sit in judgment over it.
And, of course, to pump up Johann Grech’s self-esteem, already in danger of popping like a cheap balloon.
We know this will likely attract a Right of Reply, which we would welcome. It would allow us to ask the lady who runs the Judicial Studies Committee some pointed questions.
She might wish to tell us by what stretch of the imagination does visiting a film set fall within the purview of the Committee? Education by distraction, perhaps?
And she could let us know whether she consulted anyone (the Chief Justice, perhaps) about the ethical aspects of this sort of thing since she clearly has no clue.
And what other “educational” trips has she organised? To an illegal zoo or a gambling den, maybe? We exaggerate for effect, but you know what we mean.
What would really be interesting to find out is how the participants were described to the film people.
Were they told that this was (another) bunch of government officials, for whom the Commission, we’re told, regularly organises trips? Because, you know, they’re important to promote the film industry in Malta. The photo shoots, when they’re held, are certainly milked for self-promotion.
Are we to understand, then, that for the movers and shakers within the Commission, judges and magistrates are nothing more than “government officials”, influential or not? If that is what the Commission said they were, they lied.
Which leads to the question: why did they lie?
What was so important about having the judiciary visit the movie sets that the whole thing had to be dressed up like that? It’s not as if the judges and magistrates got a photo-op out of it. The visit took place in March, and we only learned about it now, some six months later.
A bit like the benefits fraud, when you think about it, it was known about years ago, and only because the media got wind of it did we get to know.
To close on a minor point, did the little trip occur during working hours or was it a weekend event?
Did anyone earn overtime to help organise, for that matter? Not the judges and magistrates – they don’t get overtime. They work all hours to do their duty by us, just for their salary.
And, finally, an even more minor point: well, it isn’t really, it is the most important one. We just enjoy mild sarcasm.
Who, by name, rank and serial (hall) number, were the people who thought that being part of this gang of revellers was in line with their obligation to act ethically and correctly at all times? We need to know.
We also need to know, and pretty damn quickly, whether there have been other “educational activities”, such as the team building buggy rides that have taken place in Kalkara with a happy meal to follow. Does anyone expect us to believe that these picnics enhance our respect for the judicature, may its name be forever praised.
On a more significant level, is it ok for the lower courts to cavort with the superior courts, the ones before whom their appeals are heard?
We expect the Chamber of Advocates to make some lengthy pronouncement after it has chewed on this for a week or so.