Repubblika warn of irremediable damage if Magistrate Lia hears Pilatus proceedings

Repubblika lawyer Jason Azzopardi says case is at do or die ‘stage’

Magistrate Nadine Lia
Magistrate Nadine Lia

Repubblika and the State Advocate submitted their arguments in a constitutional case filed by the NGO over Magistrate Nadine Lia’s refusal to recuse herself in challenge proceedings initiated by the NGO.

Repubblika president Robert Aquilina testified on Friday afternoon about a previous sitting held in front of Lia. In the sitting, Lia read out an anonymous and threatening letter received in connection to the proceedings. The letter warned that her career and personal life were at stake.

The proceedings in question refer to Repubblika’s court request to compel the Police Commissioner to prosecute several individuals singled out by the Pilatus Bank inquiry.

The challenge proceedings had been assigned to Lia, who is usually assigned such cases.

Repubblika had immediately asked the magistrate to recuse herself from hearing this case, on the grounds that she is married to the son of former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s lawyer, Pawlu Lia.

After reading out the letter in a sitting, the magistrate immediately excused herself, stood up and left the courtroom, ignoring Repubblika’s lawyer Jason Azzopardi’s request to begin dictating a note.

Aquilina said that this hostility meant Repubblika will face irremediable damages. He recalled an instance last summer when Pawlu Lia confronted him and said “leave us alone”, remarking that he used the plural tense. “We’re worried because Magistrate Lia said there’s a possibility that she will not even hear the case and just deliver a decree.”

After Aquilina’s testimony, Repubblika’s lawyer Jason Azzopardi presented his arguments to the court. “We’re at a do-or-die stage. We’re like a patient in the emergency room whose appendix is about to burst. You don’t leave them in outpatients for months – the person needs help now. We’re at that emergency room right now.”

He identified four cases when Magistrate Lia recused herself from hearing or presiding over a case.

In the case against the alleged bomb suppliers of the Daphne Caruana Galizia assassination, she recused herself because she is married to the son of Pawlu Lia. She did so arguing that it was in the best interest of justice and given the sensitivity of the case.

He noted that, in one case, she let it slip that Pilatus Bank was never a client of Pawlu Lia’s. “How did she know this?” he questioned.

“Why is she insisting on presiding over the challenge proceedings?” he asked. “We are morally convinced that Magistrate Lia has communicated with Pawlu Lia over this.”

Lawyer Isaac Zammit put forward arguments on behalf of the state advocate. “A magistrate doesn’t have to recuse because of a one-sided concern,” he argued, without going into the merits of whether the concerns raised are of an irremediable nature.

“Legal impartiality needs to be concrete, not abstract. The arguments need to be reasonable in the eyes of a fair-minded and informed observer, not in the eyes of just any person.”

Zammit added that Repubblika should not assume hostility from Magistrate Lia because she failed to allow a process-verbal in the courtroom. More so, there was no proof that Pawlu Lia had any direct or indirect stakes in the case to begin with.

The judge deferred the case to 19 October at 9:30am.

Lawyer Jason Azzopardi represented Repubblika, assisted by Robert Aquilina. Lawyers James D'Agostino and Isaac Zammit represented the State Advocate.