Judges and magistrates should be treated equally, says newly-appointed judge

Judge Anthony Vella breaks a lance in favour of magistrates at his inaugural speech in his new role

Judge Anthony Vella
Judge Anthony Vella

A magistrate’s position should be seen as a career in itself and not as a mere stepping stone for higher office, newly-promoted Judge Anthony Vella said in a speech marking his inaugural sitting.

Vella, who was elevated to the post of judge after a 14-year period on the magistrate’s bench, said that the time had come for the elimination of the distinction in the treatment of magistrates and judges.

New extended competences have significantly increased the workload and burden of the Courts of Magistrates, Vella said, explaining that meant the difference in treatment of the two judicial posts was no longer merited.

Magistrates were not “second rate” or “lesser mortals” he said. “To the contrary, the career of a magistrate should be a career in its own right and not remain relegated as a form of indefinite probation period whilst waiting for promotion to higher office.”

The role of magistrate brought the person face to face with unimaginable realities, he said.

“You are faced with situations in which you and other people are in danger and must give direction and instruction to a number of professionals at crime scenes. You must decree on bail, pass sentences in contentious and hard-fought cases, must give a fitting punishment or acquit. You must listen to witnesses in cases and inquiries and prepare yourself for every sitting. You must examine all the circumstances, evaluate all the evidence and assure yourself that evidence is preserved according to law, examine words to see who is telling the truth and who isn’t.”

The newly-appointed judge fondly greeted the magistrates who packed the courtroom as colleagues, saying that “deep down, part of me will remain a magistrate”.

Vella was leading the inquiry into the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia before being promoted to judge at the start of summer.

Judge Vella thanked all those who he had worked with over the years, from social workers to the police but in particular his staff, who he said had worked tirelessly behind the scenes.

“If I could, I would give them a medal and build them a monument but for the time being their reward will be many more years of work.”

The family court

Having worked in the family courts for many years, Vella had advice for the streamlining of related proceedings. He called for the perfecting of the largely successful mediation procedure, which he said could be detrimental in a small number of cases.

He emphasised the importance of not only listening to but paying attention to what children had to say in family court cases, while taking care to ensure that what they say is not coming from an adult. The judge proposed an annual seminar for all those who work in the family courts.

A former student of St Aloysius College, he thanked the Jesuits for a “complete spiritual and educational formation.” The judge had words of gratitude for his father, who had fought a legal battle for his son’s inclusion in the law course.

The law had three fundamental values, he said: truth, justice and the common good, pledging his loyalty to these principles and promising to continue working with “full commitment, total dedication and attention to the needs of the people, in particular children of separated parents.”

He ended his inaugural address with a call to build on the “abundant good” that there already was in the judicial sphere.

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