Man claims fair hearing breach as opposing lawyer sits on judiciary watchdog

The constitutional court has been asked to provide a remedy by a party to a civil suit who claims that opposing lawyer, Pawlu Lia, enjoys position of power as a member of the judiciary watchdog

The constitutional court will have to rule on a man's claim that lawyer Pawlu Lia enjoys powers that can condition members of the judiciary by virtue of his membership of a body that disciplines magistrates and judges
The constitutional court will have to rule on a man's claim that lawyer Pawlu Lia enjoys powers that can condition members of the judiciary by virtue of his membership of a body that disciplines magistrates and judges

A man who is involved in a civil suit is claiming breach of a fair hearing because the opposing party’s lawyer serves on the judiciary watchdog.

Geoffrey Borg, who is a party to an ongoing civil case over a property dispute, has asked the constitutional court to provide a remedy.

Borg is contesting the opposing party’s lawyer, Pawlu Lia, who serves on the Commission for the Administration of Justice, a body that serves to discipline members of the judiciary.

Borg is claiming that Lia’s position on the commission could potentially place the judge hearing his case in a compromised position, especially if he happens to be undergoing disciplinary proceedings.

In what could potentially open the floodgates to many more cases of this nature, Borg filed proceedings with the constitutional court on Thursday. He is being represented by lawyers Franco Debono, Michael Tanti Dougall and Amadeus Cachia.

The Commission for the Administration of Justice is composed of the President of the Republic, the Chief Justice, the Attorney General, two judges and two magistrates, the President of the Chamber of Advocates, as well as two members appointed by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, respectively. One of its functions is enforcing discipline on the judiciary.

Lia was appointed to the commission by then Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.

In the court application filed today, Borg’s lawyers argued that Lia’s position gave him powers similar to those of a judge, including passing judgment on the judge hearing the case at hand.

“It places him in a position to potentially pass judgment on the judge or judges who are currently hearing, or will hear in future, this constitutional complaint itself,” they said.

The lawyers argued that their client had no means of finding out whether a judge or magistrate had appeared, is appearing, or will appear before the Commission for the Administration of Justice because disciplinary proceedings for the judiciary are held behind closed doors.

This state of fact placed the plaintiff at an “enormous” disadvantage and could cause undue pressure and conditioning on the court such that the constitutional requirement for a fair hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal would not be satisfied, added the lawyers.

Borg therefore requested the First Hall of the Civil Court in its constitutional jurisdiction to declare a breach of his fundamental right to a fair hearing before an independent and impartial tribunal and provide an adequate remedy in the circumstances.

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