The Malta Independent 5 December 2023, Tuesday
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Judge Silvio Meli’s Legal Issues, Speeches and Identity

Kevin Aquilina Sunday, 24 September 2023, 08:41 Last update: about 3 months ago

The purpose of this book review is twofold: to briefly introduce to the reader the author of this volume, together with his juristic contribution. In this case, the author is Judge Dr Silvio Meli, whilst the work is a compilation of papers, speeches, and other writings drawn up and published separately but that are now being handsomely collected in one volume entitled Legal Issues, Speeches and Identity.

As to the first point, I have had the honour to know Judge Dr Meli when I was still studying law as a final year student at the Faculty of Laws of the University of Malta. At that time, Dr Meli was one of the flourishing practising lawyers at the Attorney General’s Office. I used to visit it in connection with the research I was carrying out for my Doctor of Laws thesis. Subsequently, after several years of legal practice and legal grounding, Dr Meli was appointed, on 18 April 1990, Magistrate of the Inferior Courts and, later, on 28 April 2011, Judge of the Superior Courts from which office he retired on 30 April 2019. I was privileged to work with Magistrate and later Judge Dr Meli when I was a full-time employee at the registry of the Courts of Justice in Valletta.


I also had the privilege to work directly with Magistrate Dr Meli when he was appointed by the then Chief Justice Dr Vincent A. De Gaetano to serve as Deputy Chairman of the Judicial Studies Committee that had just been established. Together with Judge Joseph D. Camilleri, who chaired that Committee, Magistrate Meli was a pioneer of judicial training in Malta and, to his credit, members of the judiciary benefited extensively from the ongoing training provided by that Committee which, at times, teamed up also with the Chamber of Advocates and international legal experts to impart up to date information and judicial skills to the judiciary. This, undoubtedly, is a potent legacy for which he will continue to be applauded.

As Magistrate he had to dedicate most of his time to court cases in the realm of Criminal Law and Procedure presiding the Court of Magistrates as a Court of Inquiry, the Court of Magistrates as a Court of Criminal Judicature, the Juvenile Court, and as Inquiring Magistrate. In this period of his blossoming career he also dealt with civil cases and electoral register applications. He also chaired the Commission for Fair Trading for sixteen years and the Commission Against Drug and Alcohol Abuse. As a Judge he not only disposed routinely of court cases related to Civil Law and Civil Procedure but even Constitutional Law, Administrative Law, and Human Rights cases. Thanks to his mastery of the law - both Public and Private - Judge Meli is renowned for having shined in all judicial and quasi-judicial duties assigned to him.

Apart from having spent a distinguished career as an advocate at the Attorney General’s Office and as a member of the judiciary, Judge Meli still managed to find time to contribute to his alma mater. He presided moot courts and served as a lecturer, examiner, and dissertation/thesis supervisor of several students mainly in the realm of Civil Law and Civil Procedure. His specialisation in Civil Law is Philosophy of Law where he has regaled the legal profession, law students, academics, and persons with a keen interest in the study of the law, with the very first book published in Malta on Philosophy of Law - The Philosophy of Law: A Brief Introduction - published also by Kite Group in 2020. This erudite, all-encompassing, and very well written volume has contributed to raising the standard of Maltese legal literature and to proliferating knowledge about a subject that is not very much known by the general public in so far as they do not normally come into contact with it, even though it is, to my mind, an indispensable department of the Maltese legal system in so far as it provides the foundations for learning the Maltese legal system in its manifold complexities. Nonetheless, Judge Meli is surely not a novice in so far as publications are concerned. Earlier on, when he held the office of Magistrate, he had already edited a volume comprising decisions of the Commission for Fair Trading that he presided, the very first book in Malta that unpacked Maltese competition case law, a branch of the law that is today heavily inspired by European Union Competition Law.

As to the second point, this current volume consists in a collection of written pieces published by Judge Meli over a span of time covering areas that he is very well acquainted with. These topics are as diverse as are his interests in the discipline of the law. Departments of the law dealt with in this compilation range, inter alia, from uncovering the DNA of, and laying out, the historical origin, of the Maltese Legal System; from in depth law analysis to concrete proposals for law reform; from the dispensation of juvenile justice to the principles of local government; from the legal regulation of sports to legal history; from citizenship law to restorative justice; from refugee law to juridical personality; from the law related to suspects of crime to victims of crime; from the human right of the presumption of innocence to the philosophical writings of St Augustine; from civil procedure to philosophy of law; from the speech on elevation to the bench to the speech on retirement from the judiciary; from the administration of justice in Malta to the vexata quaestio of the relationship between law and justice.

Having had the possibility to savour the richness of this volume before its reader, I am of the firm view that there are a number of positive aspects that this tome brings forth that ought to be emphasised here. First, it embraces more than one area of the law rather than purposefully singling out and addressing just one area for elucidation; on the contrary, it is wide in purpose to the extent that any person with a keen interest in the law will find a topic appealing to his/her interest. Second, it is written by a person who is very well versed both in legal practice and academia. This marvellous combination enriches the final product by managing to combine successfully the world of advocacy and judgecraft, on the one hand, with that of academia, on the other. Third, the selection of essays for inclusion in this volume is not only varied but also balanced such that there is no over-emphasis on one branch of the law to the detriment of others. This exquisite blending ensures that the reader does not end up being bored to death reading a plurality of chapters only on just a single theme whilst being deprived of a quenching flavour of other areas of the law. Fourth, it is also, to a certain extent, auto-biographical as it reveals not only the philosophical thoughts of the writer but also his personality, values, ethical standards, and legal formation. In this way, the reader connects directly to the writer and the book does not end out to be just a bookish exercise or an arid piece of legal literature but one that brings the law from a dead letter to a living instrument. Finally, the book is written in fluent English, in a flowing style, and chapters are well connected to each other.

Thanks to Judge Dr Meli’s rewarding career, the reader is placed in a formidable position to leaf through this book and, in its diversity of subjects addressed, to glean how the Maltese legal system developed over two centuries and operates in its complexity and manifold intricacies. Indeed, Maltese Law - as the reader discerns in this volume - is a rich legal system in so far as it owes its inspiration to several foreign legal systems ranging from Roman Law to Common Law, from European Union Law to Public International Law, from Canon Law to the foreign law of other states, amongst others. Yet, this notwithstanding, it has managed to absorb all these influences to form a coherent and consistent legal system that, although it comes with its own innate hurdles, provides what can be envisaged to be a clear insight to these other families of the law that we remain indebted to.


Kevin Aquilina is Professor of Law, Faculty of Laws, University of Malta


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