Any other magistrate will do, Repubblika tells judge over magistrate's refusal to give up Pilatus challenge case

Repubblika were accused of 'forum shopping' over challenge proceedings with regards to Pilatus Bank officials

Repubblika’s lawyer has rejected the State Advocate’s accusation of “forum shopping,” with regards to the challenge proceedings it filed over the Commissioner of Police’s failure to press charges against several Pilatus Bank officials, saying it had no objections to the case being heard by “any other magistrate".

Lawyer Jason Azzopardi made these submissions before Mr. Justice Ian Spiteri Bailey as the constitutional case filed by Repubblika against the State Advocate over Magistrate Nadine Lia’s repeated refusal to recuse herself from presiding over the challenge proceedings in question.

Earlier this week, the judge had upheld a request for an interim measure by which the magistrate was removed from hearing the case.

Azzopardi said the magistrate had “blatantly lied in her decree”.

“I was present. If the notary [Robert Aquilina] or I took a false oath about this, they would have taken steps against us, but they didn’t. I have never before experienced a magistrate blatantly lying,” Azzopardi said, arguing that as the magistrate’s father-in-law was Keith Schembri’s lawyer, she too, had an interest in proceedings against the bank in which Schembri allegedly used to launder kickbacks.

Lawyer James D’Agostino, representing the Office of the State Advocate together with lawyer Isaac Zammit said the State Advocate accepted that the court’s decision to uphold a request for an interim measure whereby the Repubblika case be assigned to another magistrate was a landmark judgement, but insisted that it would be more correct for such a decision to have the seal of the Constitutional Court.

Lawyer Jason Azzopardi argued that to do so would be to trivialise the importance of judgments of the First Hall of the Civil Court in its Constitutional jurisdiction, when this court had given several landmark judgments which had not been appealed.

He said that the perjury case against Melvin Theuma, also being heard by Lia, ought to be adjourned until after Yorgen Fenech’s trial. “If Nadine Lia decides the perjury proceedings against Melvin Theuma before Yorgen Fenech goes on trial, it will prejudice the jury… but the other side will suffer no prejudice if the interim measure is not issued.”

D’Agostino submitted that some press outlets had given the incorrect impression that the issue had been conclusively decided, when in fact, the case was about a request for the suspension of the interim measure.

“The decision in parte needs to be confirmed by the highest court in the land, because we are saying that the other side is forum shopping,” D’Agostino said, before being interrupted by Azzopardi who shouted “Not true! Any magistrate except her!”

Azzopardi had emphasised the link with Pawlu Lia, Egrant, Pilatus bank, D’Agostino pointed out. “But to this day, there is no information in the public domain about whether Pawlu Lia is the lawyer of any of the parties. So prima facie this link doesn’t exist.”

Azzopardi interrupted the argument. ”He was Keith Schembri’s lawyer! He [Schembri] needs to be arraigned!” shouted Repubblika’s lawyer.

He pointed out that just five days ago, in a resolution on the rule of law in Malta, the European Parliament had said it was “alarmed by the lack of progress of the investigative and judicial proceedings against Pilatus Bank officials and the efforts by the Maltese authorities to stall proceedings.”

As this morning’s sitting drew to a close, the parties agreed that in view of the fact that a sitting in the challenge proceedings in question is scheduled for October 27, they will be jointly requesting that sitting to be adjourned until the final decision in this case.

Mr. Justice Spiteri Bailey took note of this joint declaration and ordered this decree be communicated to the court of magistrates and inserted in the acts of the challenge proceedings there. “This court solicits the Court of Magistrates to uphold the request [for the postponement of the challenge proceedings] which the parties will be making jointly.”