No room for Muscat lawyer on judicial watchdog, Repubblika tells PM

Repubblika says government should remove Pawlu Lia, lawyer to Joseph Muscat, from his position as government representative on the Commision for the Administration of Justice

Lawyer Pawlu Lia (left)
Lawyer Pawlu Lia (left)

Rule-of-law NGO Repubblika has called on Prime Minister Robert Abela to revoke the appointment of longtime Labour Party lawyer Pawlu Lia, as one of the representatives on the judicial watchdog, the Commission for the Administration of Justice.

The commission is presided by the President of the Republic, and includes the Chief Justice, the Attorney General, as well as representatives elected by both the judiciary and the Chamber of Advocates.

Lia, who is also acting as a lawyer for former prime minister Joseph Muscat, is nominated to the Commission as the government’s representative.

In the letter to Abela, Repubblika president Robert Aquilina said Lia, appointed by Muscat when PM, is still representing Muscat in court and as such as his continued presence on the commission was untenable.

Aquilina also pointed out that as a practising lawyer and the father-in-law to magistrate Nadine Lia, Lia’s presence was replete with conflicts of interest.

“These three reasons cast a shadow on the independence of the judiciary and on justice in Malta,” Aquilina said in his letter to the PM.

“Lia practises in courts presided by judges and magistrates who may end up appearing before him as a member of the Commission,” Aquilina said of the Commission, which determines cases of judicial irregularities or abuse. “This is a conflict that undermines the independence of the judges... because every party appearing in a court with Lia serving the opposing party, has reason to fear that justice cannot be done.”

Repubblika has filed constitutional proceedings over Magistrate Nadine Lia’s refusal to recuse herself from challenge proceedings initiated by the NGO, to compel the Police Commissioner to prosecute several individuals singled out by the Pilatus Bank inquiry.

Aquilina also pointed out that Lia was still the lawyer of Muscat, the predecessor who appointed him. “Muscat is a subject of interest in various, ongoing magisterial inquiries which could – in our view, should – lead to criminal prosecutions. For our country to truly treat everybody equally before the law... Muscat’s lawyer cannot be in a position to influence the judicial process, to aid his client.”

Aquilina said that it was for these reasons that Abela should find a substitute to Pawlu Lia as government nominee on the Commission for the Administration of Justice.

“I recommend that, regardless of the discretion given to you by the law, care must be taken in appointing an alternate member, and appoint a person whose work and family connections allow them to perform their duties in the Commission without explicitly or implicitly intimidating the executive branch of the judiciary.”

Challenge proceedings against the Police Commissioner

In June this year, Repubblika had filed challenge proceedings against the Commissioner of Police demanding that said Commissioner be forced to immediately charge the former directors of Pilatus Bank and a number of other individuals, with a number of offences, amongst them money laundering and criminal conspiracy, as he had been ordered to by the magisterial inquiry into the bank, in 2021.

In the sworn application requesting the challenge proceedings, Repubblika said it had shown that the Pilatus inquiry had ended in March 2021 and that amongst its conclusions, it had ordered the police to press money laundering and criminal conspiracy charges against several individuals. These included “close friends of ex-Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and his ex-Chief of Staff Keith Schembri, as well as that the magisterial inquiry had found grounds for additional charges of trading in

The challenge proceedings had been assigned to Magistrate Nadine Lia, who is usually assigned such cases. Repubblika had immediately asked the magistrate to recuse herself from hearing this case, on the grounds that she is married to the son of Joseph Muscat’s lawyer, Pawlu Lia.

READ ALSO: Police Commissioner describes Repubblika’s challenge to inaction after Pilatus inquiry findings as ‘fishing expedition