GWU wants judge recused in court case on breach of Valletta lease rules

GWU raises doubts about judge's impartiality due to the fact that the PN is represented in the proceedings by lawyer Edward Debono, a senior partner at a law firm which employs the judge's siblings

Judge Jacqueline Padovani Grima
Judge Jacqueline Padovani Grima

A court has begun hearing submissions in a case filed by the Nationalist Party (PN) against the General Workers' Union (GWU) over an alleged breach in the contract of lease of the Workers' Memorial Building in Valletta when it sublet part of the premises to utilities billing agency ARMS Ltd and Sciacca Grill.

Today's sitting was characterised by heated arguments after the GWU's lawyer, John Bonello, asked for the recusal of presiding judge Jacqueline Padovani Grima.

The union raised doubts about the judge's impartiality due to the fact that the PN is being represented in the proceedings by lawyer Edward Debono, a senior partner at law firm Fenech and Fenech. The same firm employs the judge's siblings, lawyer Kenneth Grima and legal procurator Rowena Grima.

The union further argued that Ann Fenech, the firm's managing partner and President of the Executive Committee of the PN, is related by marriage to Kenneth Grima, and therefore the judge.

Bonello, submitted that whilst it was true that there were almost 50 legal professionals working with the law firm, the principal partners are members of the Fenech family and had a direct or indirect relationship with the presiding judge.

The impression this gave could leave a negative impact on the case and the administration of justice in general, he argued.

In his reply, lawyer and PN MP Jason Azzopardi, countered by saying that the GWU's argument was “ridiculing” the obligation of impartiality, adding that in his counterpart's submissions, both oral and in writing, the legal grounds for a judge's recusal due to potential conflicts of interest were absent.

According to European jurisprudence, the elements that should lead to a judge's recusal are personal beliefs, behaviour and the judge's previous involvement in a case as counsel.

Azzopardi warned against anything that could encourage forum shopping.

Lawyer Daniel Buttigieg, from Fenech and Fenech, objected to the insinuations and said the law firm had both won and lost cases before judge Padovani Grima.

The lawsuit which was supposed to be heard today was filed by the PN after the GWU sublet parts of the Workers' Memorial Building in Valletta to third parties, in breach of a unanimously approved parliamentary resolution that had prohibited any subletting of the building if not to GWU subsidiaries or companies in which the union was a majority shareholder.

The building had, however been leased to utilities provider ARMS Ltd and a restaurant.

The court will hand down a decision on the request for recusal on Monday.

Lawyers Jason Azzopardi and Daniel Buttigieg are appearing on behalf of the PN Parliamentary Group, whilst lawyer John Bonello and Aaron Mifsud Bonnici are representing the GWU.

The Attorney General's office is being represented by lawyer Victoria Buttigieg in the proceedings. Lawyer Stefano Filletti appeared for the Commissioner for Lands, lawyer Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi represented ARMS Ltd and lawyers Marion Camilleri and Amadeus Cachia are representing Sciacca Grill.