Judge orders removal of Magistrate Nadine Lia from Pilatus Bank challenge case started by Repubblika

Repubblika's challenge proceedings against the police and Attorney General over failure to charge Pilatus Bank officials may proceed under a different magistrate after a judge ordered the recusal of Magistrate Nadine Lia

Magistrate Nadine Lia
Magistrate Nadine Lia

A judge has ordered that the challenge proceedings filed by Repubblika be assigned to another magistrate "to ensure that justice is not only done, but is seen to be done".

Judge Ian Spiteri Bailey granted the interim measure in a decree issued this morning, as the constitutional proceedings filed by Repubblika over Magistrate Nadine Lia’s refusal to hand over the case to another magistrate continued.

This is the first time in Maltese legal history that an interim measure was ordered to protect fair trial rights from judicial partiality.

The NGO had filed challenge proceedings to compel the Police Commissioner and the Attorney General to file charges against Pilatus Bank officials who were earmarked for prosecution by a magisterial inquiry. The challenge proceedings were presided over by Magistrate Nadine Lia with Repubblika asking that she recuse herself given her family link to lawyer Pawlu Lia, who was Joseph Muscat's lawyer.

In his decision, the judge noted that the same magistrate had previously recused herself from several other proceedings on the same grounds as those cited by Repubblika - namely that she is related by marriage to Joseph Muscat’s lawyer, Pawlu Lia.

The judge also noted that a hostile attitude had developed between the magistrate and Repubblika, which culminated in disgareement over what really went on during a short sitting when the magistrate read out a threatening letter she had received and immediately exited the courtroom. The court records of that sitting did not reflect what actually went on and which was amply reported by journalists present inside the courtroom.

The judge said that Repubblika had managed to prove at prima facie level that their fear of not having a fair hearing were real and imminent. He said the case at hand was a sensitive one and of public interest.

Spiteri Bailey ruled that Repubblika's challenge proceedings could continue but ordered that the case be assigned to a new magistrate. 
The Commissioner of Police and Attorney General now have eight days in which they can file an appeal.

Repubblika President Robert Aquilina called the ruling a "historic decision". Speaking in front of the law courts, accompanied by Repubblika's legal advisor Jason Azzopardi, Aquilina said this was an important legal battle.

"For three times we asked Magistrate Nadine Lia to recuse herself but she refused and adopted a hostile attitude towards us. We sought protection from the highest court of the land and today the Constitutional Court ruled that at face value there is a real and imminent fear that Repubblika's rights could be breached if Magistrate Lia continued to preside over the case," Aquilina said.

He called on people to join the organisation in its fight for justice.

Repubblika was assisted by lawyer Jason Azzopardi.