The misquoting magistrate

A rare correction of what a sitting Magistrate wrote in a sentence, made by a Chief Justice Emeritus. Probably this is a first in Malta’s legal history

Magistrate Joe Mifsud
Magistrate Joe Mifsud

I have long decided to refrain from commenting on the tragic case of Miriam Pace who died under the rubble of her house that collapsed when a contractor was excavating in the adjacent plot in preparation for the erection of a new development.

First of all, because I am an architect myself; and secondly because I could be biased for reasons based on my own experience.

I regret that I once was persuaded to participate in a Xarabank edition that discussed the issue a few days after the accident happened. On that occasion I even lost my temper with Andre Callus of Graffitti, when he was obviously manipulating what happened to fit in with his Marxist ideology. Callus is a very clever man, indeed.

Many people vented their opinion on the subject in both the social and the printed media, but most of these opinions are based on emotions rather than on logical, technical reasons that explain why the accident happened. Not that human emotions do not matter but, in this case, the technical reasons matter also and disregarding them is not the correct way of doing things.

Moreover, this is not a closed case yet – as many might have thought after two architects were found guilty and punished. I expect more enlightening details when the excavation contractor and one of his workers face a trial by jury that is yet to be held some day in the future.

Our justice system seems to rely on patience rather than on efficiency.

It seems, moreover, that efficiency was not the hallmark of Magistrate Joe Mifsud in delivering his recent sentence punishing the two architects in question. More so, if one were to take seriously a very sober letter penned by Chief Justice Emeritus, Vincent De Gaetano in last Tuesday’s edition of The Times. In it he referred to an editorial of that newspaper regarding the judgement that had already been decreed in which he decried that the Magistrate had misquoted the Chief Justice.

Not just a misquotation, but also – to boot – a wrong attribution. Let’s say it was a double Magisterial mistake.

The Chief Justice Emeritus, pointed out that the words quoted by the Magistrate in his sentence were not his own as indicated by the Magistrate. They were a quote from a sentence delivered by De Gaetano who was quoting what Lord Justice Lawton had said in a judgement of the English Court of Appeal (Criminal Division).

So Magistrate Mifsud’s quotation is not an opinion of Judge De Gaetano in one of his judgments, but an excerpt he quoted from a judgement delivered by Lord Justice Lawton in the English Courts. De Gaetano quoting Lawson is quite different from De Gaetano himself writing the words.

Even worse, according to Judge De Gaetano the actual quotation is incorrect as it left out a very important ‘not’ in the quotation from Lawton (attributed to De Gaetano) which said: ‘The courts do not have to reflect public opinion. On the other hand they must (not) disregard it. Perhaps the main duty of the court is to lead public opinion.’

Magistrate Mifsud apparently did not realise this important difference that the word ‘not’ implies in this context. So what does Magistrate Mifsud agree with? The original words said by Lord Lawton or his quoted version without the ‘not’?

De Gaetano claimed that this was the third time that Magistrate Mifsud misrepresented Lawton’s words while attributing them to De Gaetano.

Obviously Judge De Gaetano could take it no more and resorted to publishing a letter in the press.

It is a rare correction of what a sitting Magistrate wrote in a sentence, made by a Chief Justice Emeritus. Probably this is a first in Malta’s legal history.

I would have thought that De Gaetano would normally have just sent a complaint to the Commission for the Administration of Justice and leave it at that. However, since the double misquotation in the sentence was in the public domain and was even quoted in an editorial of The Times, the Chief Justice Emeritus had every right to send his letter for publication.

Incidentally Magistrate Mifsud has already had two warnings from the Commission after two complaints about two of his sentences. These have nothing to do with Judge De Gaetano’s complaint.

And so it goes on…

Ego trips unlimited

Mark Montebello’s biography of Dom Mintoff ‘The Tail that Wagged the Dog’ has raised the hackles of many – including those of Mintoff’s two daughters who criticised the newly-published biography of the former prime minister, accusing the author of basing his writing on hearsay and untruth.

There is a lot of ‘hearsay’ in the book but Montebello refers to the persons who gave him the information and I have no doubt that most of what Montebello wrote is true.

The Labour Party has come out with a lame excuse to assuage the Mintoff sisters and those who felt that the details of Mintoff’s sex life should have never been published.

But the fact remains that the book was published by Labour’s Sensiela Kotba Soċjalisti (SKS) that is now headed by the former right-hand man of Alfred Sant when he was Labour leader, Joe Borg. In fact Borg has denied reports claiming the PL will pull the book from the shelves and insists that SKS is treating Mintoff’s biography like all its other publications.

All male leaders have a high level of testosterone. This applies also to male athletes and sportsmen. It is the law of nature. So Mintoff’s sexual prowess is undoubtedly not just a legend.

Apart from sexuality, this level of testosterone also boosts one’s ego. Mintoff’s ego was also a matter of testosterone, I suppose. Was it his ego that decided what Mintoff decides: the tail that wagged the dog?

Perhaps. Otherwise the title of the book is a misnomer.

In fact it is very difficult to understand Montebello’s decision to choose the title he chose for Mintoff’s biography. Who was the dog and who was his tail?

Underlying all this is Mark Montebello’s well-known admiration for Mintoff. Just imagine a philosopher monk vowed to chastity and poverty admiring with awe a self-made millionaire with an insatiable sexual appetite! The mind boggles.

Is such admiration an ego trip as well?

What tail wagged this particular dog?