Pawlu Lia, the Prime Minister’s personal lawyer, is set to increase his sphere of influence over the Maltese courts as his daughter-in-law Nadine Sant is touted to be made magistrate soon.
Appointments to the judiciary are made by the Prime Minister after candidates who submit their applications are screened by the Judicial Appointments Commission.
Sant had made headlines in 2010 when she and another lawyer were reprimanded by Judge Michael Mallia for “shameful behaviour” and bickering that he had “never witnessed in 20 years on the bench”. According to reports, the judge accused Dr Sant and another lawyer of bringing “shame on the profession”.
Despite this, news of Dr Sant’s appointment appeared in Malta Independent a few weeks ago and has not yet been denied by the government. Sources confirmed with Lovin Malta that Dr Sant applied for the role and has been accepted by the Judicial Appointments Commission.
Besides being the personal lawyer of Joseph Muscat, Pawlu Lia is also the government’s representative on the Commission For The Administration Of Justice which is responsible for disciplinary action against the judiciary. This could give rise to a conflict of interest if his daughter-in-law is appointed magistrate, were she to ever face the Commission for the Administration of Justice.
Even before this development, his dual role has been questioned in legal circles since it could be perceived as giving him an upper hand in court cases. He is the only lawyer on the Commission, apart from the representative of the Chamber of Advocates.
Dr Lia is also involved in many of the court cases involving the Labour Party and its exponents.
Legal sources who spoke to Lovin Malta have questioned the suitability of having a very active court lawyer who is also involved in so many political cases being a member of the Commission.
“Especially at this time when so much of politics is taking place in the courtroom, it has become very problematic for him to be wearing so many hats at the same time,” a legal source who asked to remain anonymous told Lovin Malta.
By way of comparison, the Opposition’s representative on the Commission is a retired judge Victor Caruana Colombo – someone who is no longer active in court cases.
Given that Dr Lia is also the personal lawyer of the Prime Minister, who is responsible for judiciary appointments, his position of influence on the Commission for the Administration of Justice takes on even more significance.
“Pawlu Lia has the ear of the Prime Minister which means magistrates who want to become judges, or judges who want a promotion from the government, see him as a go-between,” the legal source said. “He effectively holds both the carrot and the stick when it comes to the Maltese judiciary. He is perceived as someone who can help them get what they want while also being instrumental in disciplining them.”
Being on the Commission also allows Dr Lia to interact with members of the judiciary in a way that other lawyers may not. Usually lawyers are only able to speak to members of the judiciary through the deputy registrar.
In a recent report about Malta, the much-respected international advisory board known as the Venice Commission had questioned the independence of Malta’s judiciary and said “crucial checks and balances are missing”, notably because final decisions on appointments still rested with the Prime Minister.
Dr Lia was also reported to be the person redacting the Egrant inquiry, which the Prime Minister had promised to publish back in July but has yet to see the light of day.
The Commission for the Administration of Justice is made up of: the President of Malta, as Chairman, the Chief Justice, as Deputy Chairman, the Attorney General, two members elected from among the Judges of the Superior Courts, two members elected from among the Magistrates of the Inferior Courts, one member appointed by the Prime Minister, one member appointed by the Leader of the Opposition, and the President of the Chamber of Advocates.