The Malta Independent 25 March 2023, Saturday
View E-Paper

Magistrate Lia’s (Mis)conduct

Mark A. Sammut Sassi Sunday, 6 November 2022, 08:08 Last update: about 6 months ago

It all boils down to impartiality. And why an examination of Magistrate Lia’s conduct is important to each and every one of us.

A couple of weeks ago, this newspaper’s weekly sister reported that a Court “ordered that the challenge proceedings filed by Repubblika be assigned to another magistrate ‘to ensure that justice is not only done, but is seen to be done’.” It was referring to the Pilatus Bank case, former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat et al, presided upon by Magistrate Nadine Lia, Muscat’s lawyer Pawlu Lia’s daughter-in-law.

ADVERTISEMENT

The Court “noted that the same magistrate had previously recused herself from several other proceedings on the same grounds as those cited by Repubblika – namely that she is related by marriage to Joseph Muscat’s lawyer, Pawlu Lia”.

Repubblika – an NGO that has my unstinted admiration for trying to clean out the cesspool this country has been turned into – asked Magistrate Lia to abstain from the case not once, not twice, but three times, and each time she refused. She “also refused that her father-in-law be summoned to testify”.

I’ve argued elsewhere that it’s baffling that Magistrate Lia couldn’t see that the legal ruckus raised by Repubblika was completely justified. It’s also baffling that she couldn’t see the conflict of interest, and therefore the lack of impartiality. Then a constitutional expert who opted to remain anonymous has highlighted that Magistrate Lia also breached her oath of office (providing enough grounds for impeachment).

Impartiality

Impartiality is number one on the list of acts that constitute judicial misconduct. For a judge there’s nothing worse than being partial or even being seen to be partial.

As soon as the impression of partiality is conveyed, the public loses faith in the judiciary, and that’s something all functioning States strive to avoid.

I was recently reading an article published on the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime website, penned by an expert called David J. Sachar who equated judicial misconduct with the dismantling of public confidence in the rule of law.

In this case, there wasn’t only the suspicion that Magistrate Lia might not be impartial, but there was also her unorthodox behaviour when, it seems, she mis-stated proceedings. Why would she mis-state proceedings, unless she was being partial? Is she usually careless?

According to the Constitution, to be made judge or magistrate, one has to have, among other qualities, “integrity, correctness and honesty in public life”. And also to be “analytical and able to make decisions” and “impartial and independent”. Looking closely at what happened in this case leads only to one question: does Magistrate Lia have what it takes to be a member of the judiciary?

The impression Magistrate Lia gave to the general public is that she’s taking sides in the Pilatus Bank affair, favouring her father-in-law and his client (and friend) former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. Does a person of integrity, a correct and honest person, behave in this way? Even if deep down she’s innocent (because she’s naive or driven by reverential fear or for some other possibly valid reason), did Magistrate Lia still satisfy the Constitution’s criteria when she allowed the impression to be passed on to the public that she’s taking sides?

These are all questions that ought not to be taken lightly, as for the public the judiciary is the most effective shield against State mismanagement, abuse of power, and outright corruption. A judiciary that loses sight of this most crucial role it has to play in a society (an organ of the State that protects people from the State itself), isn’t only useless but also dangerous.

The duty of the judiciary isn’t only to be impartial but also to let the public see that it’s impartial. These two concepts are similar but not identical.

By giving the impression to the public that she is not impartial, Magistrate Lia has damaged the fabric of the rule of law and the serene functioning of the institutions.

Once is more than enough

I say this with full awareness of how controversial it sounds, but so be it.

Judicial misconduct is, in more ways than one, similar to paedophilia committed by a public person (such as a priest or a teacher, say). If it’s committed once, it’s enough to defrock or remove the person from office. Promising it won’t happen again won’t help, as once broken, trust can’t be fixed.

Magistrate Lia’s behaviour has been flagrant. There’s no guarantee she won’t do it again, particularly when it’s difficult for the parties to prove impartiality, since not everybody’s profile is high like Repubblika’s.

All said and done, Magistrate Lia has raised valid concerns that she lacks the moral sensibility necessary to be part of the judiciary. And that’s essentially what “misconduct” is all about.

 

Jimbo Sant, P.I.

An Inspector Søren Farrugia story

Inspector Søren Farrugia was feeling tired and blue. But he kept telling himself that he shouldn’t be feeling that way.

When he was a kid, he used to love watching Bud Spencer movies. The Bigfoot – or Piedone – franchise in particular, set in crime-ridden Naples.

In the first instalment of the franchise, mob lawyer De Ribbis tells Inspector Rizzo, Bigfoot/Piedone: “La politica comanda, la Polizia obbedisce” – “Politicians give the orders, policemen obey.”

Søren Farrugia the boy had idolised Bigfoot; Bigfoot was one of the many reasons why Søren Farrugia the young man had elected to join the Force. And like Bigfoot in that movie, he couldn’t stomach De Ribbis’ truism. Yes, politicians do give the orders, but policemen need not always obey. They should always answer to a higher authority – Domine dirige nos, after all. But who is Dominus?

As he ruminated on the dark side of the Force in the quietest corner of a quiet bar, Farrugia’s old friend Jimbo Sant appeared unexpectedly, scanning the place for an empty chair or stool. Their eyes met, they exchanged a small wave and Jimbo joined him at his table.

James Sant – “Jimbo” – and the inspector went back a long way. They had been together at the Academy and graduated together, but Jimbo left the Force when he got disgusted with the interference. After long years in the economic crimes unit, one fine day he decided he’d had enough and wanted to move on, and became a private dick.

* * * * *

Quite a few (neat) whiskies and many (messed-up) memories later, the duo were still at the table, reminiscing on the Academy years and complaining about the differences between theory and practice and the consequences of low morale.

Jimbo wanted to lighten up the dark place they had found themselves in.

“Tell me, Søren: what’s the worst nightmare for the fiancée of a medical student?”

“No idea!” laughed the inspector.

“Her boyfriend telling her he wants to specialise in urology!” The two friends nearly split their sides with laughter. “She’d keep asking herself why she’d want to marry a guy who’ll spend his entire life touching, examining, and generally dealing with…”

They laughed hard. But then the inspector’s face grew dark again. “Don’t we all deal with that stuff on a daily basis?” he asked, his tone of voice as dry and sombre as a funeral drum.

“We? You seem to forget that I quit. No more urology for me, my friend. No more.”

“In a sense, yes. But you’re a private detective, aren’t you?”

“Sure. But I don’t need to obey politicians… not anymore…”

* * * * *

The hangover was unbearable. Farrugia arrived at the Station late, and not in good shape; luckily he had no scheduled court sittings.

What’s the cure for the morning-after willies?

He asked Sergeant Laus for a strong black coffee and an update on whatever was going on.

“Nothing today, Sir. It’s a quiet day.”

Farrugia let out a sigh of relief, collapsed into his armchair, and sipped his coffee. He went through the previous evening’s conversation with Jimbo Sant in his head. The urologist’s wife: that was a good joke. Vintage Jimbo, he giggled to himself.

* * * * *

As he was catching up on the backlog that had remorselessly accumulated on his desk – the files looked like loan sharks impatiently waiting for payment – Farrugia received a call from HR at HQ. His boss, Mr Zahra, wanted a word with him. Nothing urgent, no rush, but within the hour would be greatly appreciated.

What on earth might Zahra want to have a word about? There was no particularly hot case going on at the moment.

Farrugia disliked this silly routine, but he drove to his boss’ office nonetheless, cursing at the hangover jiggers rocking into his brains.

You’re growing old, man. Your body can’t handle all that booze no more.

Yeah, and you’re also watching too many American movies for your own good.

* * * * *

“Anything to report about Jimbo Sant, Inspector?”

“Sir?”

 “You’ve been seen having a long conversation with that renegade…”

“Sir…”

Why all this paranoia? What is going on? Why are police officers being watched? Am I being constantly tailed? And by whom?

“So, Inspector. What were you and Jimbo Sant talking about?”

“Urology, Sir.”

“Urology?!”

“Yes, Sir. Urology.”

“Jimbo Sant’s got something wrong with his junk? I see. This is a sick, little joke, Inspector, right? Is this what we have come to, now? Seriously…?”

“No, Sir. Seriously.”

“Are you taking me for a fool, Inspector?”

“Me, Sir? Take you for a fool, Sir?”

“If you do, Inspector, I am for you: I serve as good a man as you!”

“No, Sir. But seriously, I think he felt a little bit like junk, Sir.”

“What d’you mean?”

“I couldn’t figure it out, Sir. I think he got slightly muddled in the head with the whisky and all that, and his speech got slurred. He was mumbling. It sounded mumbo jumbo to me, Sir.”

“Mumbo Jimbo, more like it…”

“Good one, Sir. But, seriously, my impression, Sir, is that he felt like he’s been thrown away. As I said, like junk.”

“Nobody threw him away, Søren. He left because he wanted to. I actually liked him: he always obeyed orders. No questions asked.”

“Sir.”

“And you, son, how do you feel?”

“Sir?”

“Feeling lonely? Looking for a wife?”

Oh geez, here we go again. “No, Sir. Just tired.”

“Tired? In need of a holiday?”

“You know, Sir, I have this burning desire to visit Budapest. They’ve erected a statue to Bud Spencer over there…”

“What a bizarre conversation, Inspector! I prefer the conversations I used to have with Jimbo Sant. More straightforward, no head games. Just orders and execution. OK, Søren, you may leave now.”

“Yes, Sir. Nice day, Sir!”

“Yeah, and take a couple of days off. A holiday will certainly do you good…”

[email protected]

 

  • don't miss