Pawlu Lia as opposing counsel breaches right to fair hearing, man claims

Pawlu Lia exiting Court with then-Justice Minister Owen Bonnici (file photo).

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

A man has filed a constitutional case claiming that his right to a fair hearing is being breached since the opposing party’s lawyer – Pawlu Lia – sits on the Commission for the Administration of Justice.

Geoffrey Borg is involved in a dispute against Melitas Properties Ltd and its representative Victor Magro, over an apartment he purchased in Qawra. He had discovered that the final contract deviated from the conditions of the promise of sale, by allowing the developers to add additional floors to the apartment building.

Plaintiff placed ‘at an enormous disadvantage’

In his constitutional case, Borg’s lawyers Franco Debono, Michael Tanti Dougall and Amadeus Cachia argue that as a member of a commission which can discipline members of the judiciary, Lia’s presence in court could potentially place the judge hearing his case in a compromised position. The lawyers also argued that Lia had effectively been granted powers similar to those of a judge

“This state of affairs, with the lawyer to one of the parties in a position which can discipline members of the judiciary – including the one presiding over this case – places the plaintiff at an enormous disadvantage and can put the court under undue pressure,” the lawyers said.

Consequently, they argue, the right to a fair hearing as established in the Constitution of Malta and the European Convention on Human Rights was not being respected.

They are thus asking the Court to declare that Borg’s right was being breached, and to remedy the situation.

Case could set precedent

The Commission is composed of the President, the Chief Justice the Attorney General, two judges and two magistrates, the President of the Chamber of Advocates, a member nominated by the Prime Minister and a member nominated by the Leader of the Opposition. Lia – who often represents the Labour Party in court – is the Prime Minister’s nominee.

Lia has long been the Labour Party’s nominee on the Commission – even when it was in opposition – and consequently, this constitutional case could potentially pave the way for many other cases of this nature.