The Malta Independent 11 August 2022, Thursday

TMID Editorial: Four months to hear an urgent case - efficient indeed!

Friday, 29 July 2022, 10:49 Last update: about 13 days ago

A couple of weeks ago, Prime Minister Robert Abela said he wants to see the courts of law work in a more efficient and friendly manner.

This week, rule of law NGO Repubblika said that a case it has filed in the courts in a bid to try to force the police commissioner to prosecute Pilatus Bank officials has been scheduled for late October.

This, the NGO said, will give those involved an additional four months to erase evidence and get away with it.

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To make matters worse, the proceedings will be further slowed down by the fact that the group is asking for the recusal of the magistrate. This is because the case has been assigned to Nadine Lia, who is married to lawyer Alessandro Lia who, in turn, is the son of lawyer Pawlu Lia – the Labour Party’s lawyer.

The latter has represented individuals like Joseph Muscat and Keith Schembri in court. In fact, he had requested the Egrant inquiry on behalf of Muscat.

It is already incredulous that such things happen and sensitive cases like this one get assigned to magistrates and judges who have a clear conflict of interest. It is beyond belief that the plaintiffs have to request the recusal of a magistrate in such a case, rather than there being an automatic system where the case is assigned to someone with no connection to the case.

It is even more unbelievable how the magistrate in question has refused a request by Repubblika to bring the case forward and to get this issue over and done with.

This is not efficiency – it is the exact opposite. It is unnecessary bureaucracy and time-wasting that will do nothing to improve justice and the rule of law in Malta.

The Pilatus Bank case has been ongoing for years now. Despite the fact that the magistrate behind the inquiry recommended police action against several individuals, to date, only the bank itself and one former official have been charged.

To add insult to injury, we found out this week that another former official had been allowed to leave Malta despite having had an arrest warrant issued against him.

In yet another bizarre twist of events, this individual was in Malta and actually went up on the witness stand to testify in October of last year, more than six months after the arrest warrant was issued. Yet, despite the fact that he presented himself at the law courts, he was not arrested and was allowed to travel abroad.

All this is making a mockery out of justice and this case needs to be heard urgently.

This is why Repubblika’s case must be heard now, not in October. We have already seen what happens when action is taken when it’s too late, when evidence can be tampered with or simply erased.

And this case cannot possibly be heard by Magistrate Lia, who has such a clear conflict of interest. Why does the magistrate have to wait until October to hear submissions about why she should recuse herself? Why doesn’t she just do so now, saving us the time and trouble?

If Robert Abela truly wants to see more efficient courts, these are the kinds of issues that he and his justice minister should see to immediately.

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