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A Threat Of Legal Dictatorship? Fears Of The Prime Minister’s Lawyer’s Unwavering Authority Over Malta’s Courts Is Growing

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Lawyers are flagging the Prime Minister’s lawyer’s influence over the courts after an MP raised concerns over the pressures he may be placing over Malta’s judiciary.

This comes after Lia made a series of unscheduled appearance at a court case that directly impacts his daughter-in-law’s controversial magisterial appointment.

“And the Prime Minister’s lawyer, Dr Pawlu Lia, who sits with the Chief Justice on the Commission for the Administration of Justice, gracing us with his presence in the Court of Appeal for both sittings (including this morning) in Repubblika’s case,” MP and Lawyer Jason Azzopardi wrote on social media.

“Of course, the fact that his daughter-in-law (Magistrate) is directly impacted by Repubblika’s case in front of the Chief Justice is a mere coincidence.”

Some have viewed Lia’s decision to enter the courtroom as a direct attempt to use his significant power and influence to put pressure on the decision.

Several legal sources described the undue power Lia is enjoying, with fears that his multiple governmental roles and his legal representation of both the Prime Minister and the Labour Party are eroding any sense of the rule of law.

As a member of the Commission for the Administration of Justice that was nominated by Joseph Muscat, Lia is enjoying a status similar to a judge, giving the Prime Minister’s and Labour Party’s lawyer an elevated and influential position in the courts.

By way of comparison, the Opposition’s representative on the Commission is retired judge Victor Caruana Colombo…  someone who is no longer active in court cases.

A judge that judges other judges, Lia sits on the Commission with members of the judiciary who decide his clients’ cases, and also appears in front of judges and magistrates who are well aware that they may appear in front of him in disciplinary proceedings.

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.

A cartoon from an anonymous source

A cartoon from an anonymous source

It is also yet unclear whether Lia had paid a long-standing fine for contempt of court that dates back to 2002, with him facing possible detention should he fail to pay up.

He has even been reported as the person who redacted the infamous Egrant Inquiry, which itself is currently at the centre of a legal battle pushing for its publication.

More recently, Lia launched an attempt to transform an 18th Century Valletta Palazzo into a four-storey office block, something which has brought criticism and objection from group Din L-Art Ħelwa and Flimkien Għal-Ambjent Ahjar.

Lia’s case may seem isolated. However, the independence of Malta’s judiciary has often been called into question by international authorities, with the Venice Commission noting that “crucial checks and balances are missing”, given that appointments ultimately rest with the Prime Minister.

This has been challenged by activist group Repubblika, however, with most of the recent judicial appointments being called into question, one has to ask whether asking the judiciary to elect themselves may simply create an endless cycle of cronyism.

READ NEXT: Ruining Valletta’s Skyline: Din L-Art Ħelwa Will Object To Joseph Muscat’s Lawyer’s Attempt To Turn Palazzo Into Four-Storey Office Block

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