Update 6 | Peralta insists reporter's arrest was well within his rights

Magistate Carol Peralta refuses to confirm whether he was still a freemason, saying there was no conflict between freemasonry and the judiciary.

miriam
Miriam Dalli
20 December 2013, 12:00am


Magistrate Carol Peralta has remained defiant in the wake of calls for his resignation by both the government and the Opposition, following his arrest of a Times reporter for snapping a photograph of an impromptu Christmas party that took place inside his courtroom, yesterday.

He also said that calls for his resignation and allegations of abuse of power were "insignificant".

Peralta said that MPs from both parties, who are lawyers, were present for the party. He refused to identify them. He said the party was attended by police officers, lawyers, staff members, and also three reporters, among them Times reporter Waylon Johnston and MaltaToday's Chris Mangion.

It has since been confirmed that one of the magistrates present for Peralta's drinks in Hall 3 was Consuelo Scerri Herrera, whose Hall 2 is next door to Peralta's. Magistrate Francesco Depasquale was also present.

In comments to MaltaToday, Depasquale explained that he had passed by Peralta's Hall to exchange Christmas greetings.

"As is customary for all colleagues in the Christmas period, I dropped by to exchange Christmas greetings and then proceeded to go home - all this lasted not longer than five minutes," Depasquale said.

Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi said he had been asked to assist an individual who was to be arraigned before Scerri Herrera. When he went down to Scerri Herrera's courtroom - who had been waiting for him until he finished another case - Azzopardi noticed that the room was empty. A court marshal however turned up and walked him towards Peralta's courtroom, whose front door was closed.

Inside, Azzopardi saw around 12 individuals one of whom was Scerri Herrera, he said. "There were drinks and finger food, including stuffed olives. The marshal offered me a drink but I refused... I don't drink alcohol," he said, adding that Scerri Herrera left to continue with her work.

"I didn't spend more than two or three minutes in that room," Azzopardi added.

At a press conference held at his Mdina residence, Peralta said: "These were just drinks, above board, between friends."

"At the same time, another party was going on in the courts. In the case of our party, yes there was smoking, but the courtroom was locked so it was not a public place but a private function. Around 3:45pm, a staff member noticed someone trying to take photos, and he was taken to the magistrate's chambers. I asked him who he was, and he told me 'I am a nobody'."

Peralta asked him twice to identify himself, but he didn't reply. "At that point I thought he was some blogger who had come to spy on me, so I called him a parasite."

The reporter was detained for three hours before being released.

Peralta said two months ago, a party was held in Hall No 2, for a retired member of the Commission for the Administration of Justice. "If the CAJ investigates me, it should investigate why I was targeted since another party was held."

He added that he had been holding such Christmas drinks on a yearly basis since 1990.

Peralta insisted he had all the authority to call for the reporter's arrest because he refused to identify himself. It appears that Ivan Martin later identified himself, but he was not released. "He identified himself after I called the police. If he breached the law in flagrante by taking photos in the courtroom, I don't know what else could merit arrest."

Peralta insisted that justice secretary Owen Bonnici warned him of the effect his actions would have when reported by the media. "If the CAJ finds some abuse of power, I'll be happy to resign."

Sitting on his red leather couch smoking a cigarette, Peralta refused to answer as to whether he was still a freemason - he was formerly a member of the Leinster Lodge - saying it was not illegal, and that ample court judgements existed saying that there was no conflict between him being a freemason and a member of the judiciary.

During the press conference, Peralta admitted that a joke he passed during the party - much to the amusement of his guests - was passing his hand over his trouser zipper, to confirm that he was "a man" due to the fact that his name often led some newspapers to misreport him as a female magistrate.

Parliamentary secretary for justice Owen Bonnici also wrote to President George Abela, as chairman of the Justice Commission, asking for Peralta's actions to be investigated.

In a statement, the parliamentary secretariat said it had received information that Peralta had organised a party in his chambers and asked for the arrest of Times's journalist Ivan Martin who had attempted to take pictures of the ongoing party.

The government noted that Peralta had asked Martin not to take pictures, even though no sitting was ongoing.

The news first broke when newspaper The Times of Malta issued a story earlier this afternoon in which they claimed that Magistrate Carol Peralta had held a party in a court hall where sittings were normally held.

An eyewitness had reportedly contacted the newspaper after he had seen people smoking and drinking on the magistrate's bench with many of the benches pushed back to create space. There was also music playing.

It was also claimed that Peralta's party was "blown way out of proportion" and that the Magistrate issued warrant for the reporter's arrest "after he refused to give his particulars".

"It was a Christmas gathering of about 10 people and the hall was set-up with all the benches in their proper place," one attendee said, adding that Christmas carols were being played.

Towards the end of the gathering, the magistrate noticed a person "attempting to take photos through a gap in the door".

Magistrate Peralta called him over and asked for his particulars, warning that it was a breach of law to take photos inside the court halls.  "The man refused to give his identification, which prompted the magistrate to warn that refusing to do so when asked by a court official was yet another breach of the law. The Magistrate told the man that unless he told him who he was and what he was doing, he would have no option but to call the police."

Government calls for urgent investigation into "unacceptable behaviour"

In a letter addressed to President of Malta and Chairperson of the Commission for the Administration of Justice George Abela, Bonnici called for an investigation by the Commission into the "unacceptable behaviour" of Magistrate Peralta.

"In light of the reports being brought to light by the media, I urge the Commission to urgently investigate the party and the subsequent arrest," Bonnici held.

The parliamentary secretary also called the Commission to take the necessary steps against Peralta.

Earlier, Bonnici condemned the behaviour of the Magistrate and argued that such behavior tarnishes the good work of the members of the judiciary.

AD bemoans magistrate's 'abuse of power'

Meanwhile, the Green Party has bemoaned Magistrate Carol Peralta, and said that together with the previous shortcomings within the judiciary, the rule of law in Malta "seems to be going to the dogs".

"The abuse of power by the magistrate is unacceptable. Throwing a party in a courtroom with drinks, cigarettes and music does not seem to be the most appropriate thing."

"With proven corruption amongst three judges in the last 10 years, police acting as waiters, a lawyer turned minister blackmailing a person, the Armed Forces commander not bothering to answer questions on the death of 270 Syrians and now this 'toga party', the rule of law in Malta seems to be really going to the dogs," Alternattiva Demokratika Chairman Arnold Cassola said.

PN "disappointed and concerned"

"The PN is concerned and disappointed that a reporter was arrested - while carrying out his duties - on orders of a member of the judiciary," it said.

The party also augured for the arrest would be rectified and that justice would be done as soon as possible.

Muscat says Peralta's behaviour diminishes people's trust in judiciary

A "preoccupied and angry" prime minister said that the situation further diminishes the public's confidence and trust in the judiciary and the situation has become untenable.

Speaking on TVM news on Thursday evening, Muscat said that it is a travesty for a reporter to be arrested while carrying out his duties and moreover, he argued that the law courts are no place for a party to be held.

"The alleged party and the subsequent arrest of the reporter further proves that a change is needed within the Constitution to afford the Commission for the Administration of Justice greater remedies," the Prime Minister argued.

Muscat said under the current law, the only remedy the government can exhaust is to ask the Commission to investigate the claims, which in turn would be able address, the situation despite its limited remedies.

 "The government must act on the proposals made by the Justice Reform Commission and implement the proposed measures," he concluded.

 

 
miriam
Miriam Dalli graduated in communications studies from the University of M...