Repubblika insists on victim status in Lia recusal, State says no juridical interest

Repubblika replies to State arguments in Constitutional appeal stage over Magistrate Nadine Lia’s refusal to recuse herself in Pilatus Bank police challenge

Placards decrying financial crimes inside the now-shuttered Pilatus Bank
Placards decrying financial crimes inside the now-shuttered Pilatus Bank

The anti-corruption NGO Repubblika insisted on its right to impugn the alleged impartiality of Magistrate Nadine Lia, who has refused to recuse herself in a police challenge filed by the NGO over a refusal to investigate the shuttered bank Pilatus for money laundering.

The appeal hearing is on a decision by the Constitutional Court of January 2023, that decreed Repubblika could not claim that its fundamental rights would suffer if challenge proceedings to prosecute former top officials at Pilatus Bank for financial crimes, continued to be heard under Lia.

Repubblika filed a police challenge over the Police’s inaction on the NGO’s criminal complaint against the former bank. But its request to Magistrate Lia – daughter-in-law of Pawlu Lia, a lawyer to former prime minister Joseph Muscat – to recuse herself on the challenge case, was denied. The NGO is challenging her refusal in the Constitutional Court, and now appealing that same court’s last decision.

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

“Magistrates must be impartial from Monday to Sunday, 24-7... this is in the Code of Civil Procedure,” Repubblika lawyer Jason Azzopardi told the Court, as he rebutted all the protestations raised by the State Advocate.

The AG claims a legal notice states that the charges Repubblika elicited in its criminal complaint for the Pilatus Bank investigation – money laundering, false declarations, and criminal association – are not in the competence of the police.

The lawyer insisted that the legal notice cited actually listed the crimes under the AG’s competence, and that the ones elicited by Repubblika were indeed the “unique responsibility of the Commissioner of Police.”

Azzopardi said that just as the Ramblers Association’s rights to enjoy public land had been “denied in perpetuity” by the Lands Authority’s unilateral devolution of countryside to the hunters’ lobby, so had been Repubblika’s rights denied by the police’s lack of investigation, in a rejoinder of the court decision by Mr Justice Lawrence Mintoff.

He also argued that Repubblika had victim status and juridical interest, saying the NGO was the victim of magistrate Nadine Lia’s refusal to recuse herself on a case in which Repubblika was seeking proper accountability. “The law to challenge the police’s non-action was introduced in 1909 as a way to ensure accountability from the police,” Azzopardi said.

In the meantime, the lawyer protested, delays in evidence being collected or evidence lost because of the investigation not being carried out, was only benefitting the alleged perpetrators. “This makes Repubblika a victim in this case,” Azzopardi said.

The State Advocate’s riposte was to dub Repubblika’s counter-arguments “frivolous and vexatious”, saying the NGO was a third party in the decision as to whether the AG or the Police proceed to investigate a criminal complaint; and that unlike the Ramblers’ juridical interest in the Lands Authority challenge, Repubblika’s was not a public interest challenge, but one based on its personal interests.

“Our work is to defend the institutions – the courts included,” the State Advocate’s lawyers said. “We have grown used to the style of the appellant that uses deplorable and insolent language to decry ‘injustices’ when the Courts do not rule in its favour... as if some sacrilege has been committed. I believe their tone should be calibrated, and that the court should send a message that insults like ‘kangaroo courts’ in such instances, should not be tolerated.”