The Malta Independent 15 November 2018, Thursday

TMIS Editorial: Mizzi must now step down from Panama appeal case

Sunday, 19 August 2018, 19:18 Last update: about 4 months ago

We have said it several times and we will say it once again, Mr Justice Antonio Mizzi has absolutely no business being involved in a case as politically sensitive as the one from which he is refusing to recuse himself.

Not only is the judge refusing, but the Attorney General is also doing everything he can to prevent the judge from stepping down from a case.

Should this situation be allowed to continue to fester, the ramifications could be enormous and they would stretch far beyond the already expansive confines of the case in question. Those ramifications could, in fact, have a lasting effect on the public’s faith in the judiciary.

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This is a particularly problematic case over whether a judicial inquiry should be launched into the possibility that money laundering laws were broken when Panamanian companies and New Zealand trusts were opened by the Prime Minister’s chief of staff and one of his key ministers.

This could be considered the mother of all the ongoing inquiries.

This is the inquiry requested by former Opposition leader Simon Busuttil. That was a year ago now.

Although a magistrate had agreed some time ago to the request for such an inquiry to be launched, that ruling had been appealed by the Prime Minister, himself a party to the case, his chief of staff and his tourism minister – plus four other alleged accomplices.

Since then, the inquiry that should have got off the ground so many months ago is still languishing at the appeal stage. After a constitutional court ruled that the appeal judge should step down, the Attorney General has bought still more time and put still more obstacles in the course of justice by lodging an appeal against the recusal.

Mr Justice Antonio Mizzi happens to be married to Labour Party European Parliamentarian Marlene Mizzi, who has been vocal in support of those in government who have been exposed by the Panama Papers, and equally vocal against those who have sought to bring those individuals to justice.

Up until this point, there were already ample grounds for the judge to recuse himself from the case, under the ethos that justice must not only be done but must also be seen to have been done.

But that ethos took another hard knock on Friday when the MEP wife of the judge took to the social media to blast Busuttil for an interview he gave to a Brussels news outlet.

Now there should be no problem in the world with the MEP taking shots – no matter how politically charged, as this one was – at a politician on the other side of the figurative floor, but Mrs Mizzi should really know better. Her comments, considering her husband’s position in such a politically charged case, were more than uncalled for and out of place, they were also completely unethical.

She really should know better than that. And because she apparently did not know any better, she has placed the entire judiciary in something of a precarious position.

Mr Justice Mizzi now needs to do the right thing and step down from the case once and for all, his position on it is clearly as untenable as can be: not on grounds of competency, credentials or integrity. He must recuse himself because at the end of the day, justice must not only be done but must also be seen to have been done.

Mr Justice Mizzi’s untarnished reputation of integrity and jurisprudence is unquestioned, but the judge must certainly see that his position is compromised, even if through no fault of his own.

But, as the Constitutional Court, has ruled: “In a manner most crystal clear Mr Justice Mizzi should be moved aside, even if only in the best interest of the administration of justice.”

That ruling is now being appealed by the Attorney General.

Mr Justice Mizzi could save all this trouble by doing the right thing for the country and the judiciary, the thing he should have done from the get-go: step aside.

But for some reason he is refusing to do so, with the government’s backing through the Attorney General.

Given this situation, there is only one remaining course of action to be taken if justice is truly to be seen to have been done whatever the outcome of the appeal.

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