Chamber of Advocates President Louis de Gabriele has told The Malta Independent on Sunday that he does not see a conflict of interest with the multiple roles held by lawyer Pawlu Lia.
The latter was Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s personal lawyer in the Egrant debacle, is the main legal counsel for the Labour Party and was also appointed by the Prime Minister to sit on the Commission for the Administration of Justice – the disciplinary entity for members of the judiciary
Lia’s apparent conflict of interest was flagged again last week after it was confirmed that his daughter-in-law, Nadine Lia, is being nominated for the post of magistrate.
Besides being married to Pawlu Lia’s son, Alessandro, the lawyer recently served as legal consultant to Economy Minister Chris Cardona.
Lawyers who spoke to this newspaper on condition of anonymity last week described Nadine Lia’s impending appointment to the bench as “outrageous” and “of the worst kind”, and threatened to boycott her and possibly take the matter to the Constitutional Court due to concerns regarding a lack of fair hearing.
Such a move would lead to legal wrangling in the courts and weeks, if not months of delays.
The nomination was put forward by the Judicial Appointments Committee. The committee has also nominated magistrates Francesco Depasquale and Yana Micallef Stafrace for promotion to judges.
Chamber does not comment on specific nominations
Replying to questions by this newspaper, De Gabriele said he had not been approached by lawyers about these concerns.
Asked what the Chamber’s view was on Nadine Lia’s nomination, Degabriele said the Chamber of Advocates has a policy not to express any opinion on specific nominations to the Bench.
“The president of the Chamber is a member of the Judicial Appointments Committee and any views of the President of the Chamber will only be expressed in that forum.”
De Gabriele replied in a similar manner when asked whether Nadine Lia’s relationship to Pawlu Lia makes her unsuitable for the post to which she will soon be appointed.
“The Chamber has and will continue to actively express its views and to work towards a better system of judicial appointments, but will certainly not express any views on individual appointments to the Bench.”
Loyalty of CAJ members is to their constitutional role
Asked specifically about Pawlu Lia’s apparent conflict of interest, due to his different roles, De Gabriele said: “The question seems to imply that there is a conflict of interest. Frankly, I don’t see it. Dr Lia is not the government representative on the Commission for the Administration of Justice – he was simply nominated by the Prime Minister. Like all other members of the Commission who are nominated or appointed by another person, that nomination is made because that person or entity believes that its nominee can undertake the tasks and roles required of him/her to the best of their ability, and to be able to add value and contribute to the debate within the Commission.
“However, once he is appointed, he has a personal responsibility – the responsibility is not of the person making the appointment but rather of the person accepting the appointment to act according to the dictates of the Constitution. Indeed, any Commission member’s personal loyalty and allegiance are clearly to his constitutional role as a member of the Commission and not to the person or entity that appoints him.”
Louis De Gabriele said the same goes for him – as President of the Chamber of Advocates he is an ex ufficio member on the Commission for the Administration of Justice and on the Judicial Appointments Committee.
Matters pertaining to the Commission and the Committee are not discussed at Chamber of Advocates level, he said.
“Once appointed to the Commission, my role is to act in a manner that is in line with the dictates of the Constitution and it is my personal responsibility to do so. There is, for instance, no discussion at Chamber of Advocates level of matters that fall within the competence of the Commission or, for that matter the JAC.”
“This is an important distinction – just because as president of the Chamber I am appointed a member of the JAC, that appointment is clearly in a personal capacity and not only do I not discuss matters of the Committee with my fellow council members of the Chamber, I am prohibited from doing so at law.”
Minister’s comments ‘could have been misinterpreted’
De Gabriele (above) said he was making this clarification because a recent statement by Justice Minister Owen Bonnici “could have been misinterpreted as meaning that the Chamber is aware of the discussions at the JAC, simply because its president is a member of that Committee. This is not the case.”
Indeed, in comments given to this newspaper this week, Justice Minister Owen Bonnici again pointed out that the President of the Chamber of Advocates is an ex ufficio member on the JAC.
“Following the reform undertaken by this Government, any person who aspires to join the Bench must first obtain a positive advice from the Judicial Appointments Committee which is completely independent from the Government of the day. The President of the Chamber of Advocates sits ex ufficio on this Committee. An evaluation is made not only on whether the candidate satisfies legal requirements for eligibility but also for merit according to objective guidelines drawn up by the Committee itself. The government has always followed the advice of the Committee. The proceedings of the Committee are confidential according to law,” Bonnici told this newspaper.
The Minister did not reply to questions on whether he had taken note of the concerns expressed by lawyers last week, whether he was concerned by the implications of what they were suggesting, whether he had discussed these issues with Nadine Lia and whether he would be endorsing her nomination.
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