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NEWS | Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Judge and magistrate hit back at government’s boycott

The judge and magistrate accused of breaching the Commission for the Administration of Justice’s code of ethics have hit back at the government yesterday, accusing it of interfering in the raging controversy and blurring the distinction between executive and judiciary by boycotting them.
Tomorrow, Mr Justice Lino Farrugia Sacco and Magistrate Antonio Mizzi will be barred from the official Republic Day celebrations as government has decided to ostracise them following their defiance of the commission’s orders to resign from sports councils on grounds of conflict of interest.
Announced by MaltaToday last Sunday, the decision was taken by the highest government circles and will be implemented as from tomorrow.
But speaking to this newspaper yesterday night, the two judiciary members hit back at the government, with the judge calling the decision a serious mistake and the magistrate charging the government with overstepping its remit and trespassing onto the judiciary’s territory.
“In the interest of the Maltese people, I haven’t spoken publicly yet, even though I have lots of things I would like to say,” Mr Justice Farrugia Sacco said. “All I can say at this point is that I haven’t received any official communication about any boycotts. It is obviously the wrong decision, because the Commission is absolutely wrong.
“The Constitution gives all the necessary guarantees to avoid all that the Commission is trying to infer. In the process, the Constitution itself is being breached left, right and centre; some fundamental principles are being defied; and this is totally wrong. I don’t want to exacerbate matters, so I’ll stop here for today. If they want to exacerbate matters then that’s their decision and we’ll take it from there.”
Magistrate Mizzi also confirmed he only got to know about the boycott against him through last Sunday’s report, adding that the best person to answer would be Chief Justice Vincent Degaetano – who is also the vice president of the same Commission censuring him.
“I know absolutely nothing about this, beyond the report I read last Sunday,” Magistrate Mizzi said. “I wasn’t even informed officially about this decision. I think you should ask your questions to the President of the judiciary (Chief Justice Vincent Degaetano) as he is the one who can answer journalists’ questions. That’s what the protocol says.
“If, however, what was reported is true, then this is a very worrying situation about the institutions of our democracy. I know the last word about the judiciary should be that of Parliament. That’s where impeachment motions are discussed and decided upon. So why is government interfering in juridical institutions? Why did the commission ask the government to take measures against us? The commission was created precisely to ensure there is no conflict between the executive and the judiciary, but now this distinction seems to have been blurred completely. If there’s a conflict of interest it is precisely this one.
“Every democracy is based on the clear separation of powers. If this has stopped being the case in Malta, I can’t really tell. Hypothetically, however, if government serves the commission in this way, what would hold the government back from expecting the commission or individual judges to serve it, in the other way round? What would, for example, hold the government from dangling a carrot to get a judge to deliver whatever it wants? I was taught at university this is just not done, but I wonder if they still teach those values nowadays.”
A spokesman for the prime minister also confirmed yesterday night the two judiciary members were not invited for tomorrow’s function, nor will they be in future.
“The issue is not a question of boycotting,” he said. “Considering the Commission for the Administration of Justice’s mission to secure the highest ethical standards and propriety in the judiciary, and following its stand in these cases, government believes that it should do nothing that could weaken the Commission’s authority. Thus, Government decided not to issue official invitations for official functions to the two judiciary members so as not to undermine the clear and unequivocal position adopted by the Commission regarding the holding of public offices within sports organizations among of members of the judiciary.”
Meanwhile, MaltaToday can also reveal that even Education Minister Louis Galea – responsible for sports and the man who started off the whole controversy two years ago – will be absent from the Maltese Olympic Committee Sports Award coming Friday, in a clear sign of boycott towards its President, Mr Justice Farrugia Sacco.
In its letters to Justice Minister Tonio Borg, the commission asked him to ensure that the executive and public entities did nothing that undermined its authority or that could in any way give the perception that the judge’s and magistrate’s behaviour was approved.
The commission also informed the government that the judge’s and magistrate’s defiance was a serious breach of ethics, further aggravated by the fact that they were disobeying an order given by the constitutionally-established commission.
Mr Justice Farrugia Sacco and Magistrate Mizzi were ordered by the Commission for the Administration of Justice to step down from president and public relations director respectively on the Malta Olympic Committee (MOC). Magistrate Mizzi is also President of the Malta Basketball Association (MBA).
In February last year, the Commission informed Judge Farrugia Sacco and Magistrate Mizzi that after examining their cases, their positions as members of the judiciary could be compromised or prejudiced, especially because of their potential involvement in public controversy with other sports or government entities.
Describing both MOC and MBA as “heavily dependent on commercial and government sponsorships” with potential for public controversy, the Commission was acting upon its newly introduced code of ethics for the judiciary members, ordering them to step down from the Olympic committee and MBA and to “regularise” their position.
Two years ago, both members were involved in a public row with Louis Galea when the MOC criticised sporting legislation which they claimed threatened its autonomy and the allocation of funding to sporting associations.
Responding to the criticism, Galea had said he could “not fail to bring to attention the conflict for a Judge or Magistrate who, wearing the cap of MOC president or media director, takes a position against an act of parliament in public circumstances outside the judicial process” – referring to both Farrugia Sacco and Mizzi.
Galea also added that the Chief Justice had already asked the two members to conform to the code of ethics, which he said prohibits the judiciary from “behaviour that endangers their impartiality or independence”.
“The government cannot ignore the Chief Justice’s admonishment,” Galea had warned.
Headed by President Eddie Fenech Adami, the commission comprises Chief Justice Vincent Degaetano as deputy chairman, Attorney General Sivlio Camilleri, judges Geoffrey Valenzia and Joseph Galea Debono, retired judge Victor Caruana Colombo, magistrates Silvio Meli and Jacqueline Padovani Grima, lawyer Joseph Micallef Stafrace and the President of the Chamber of Advocates, Andrew Borg Cardona.

kschembri@mediatoday.com.mt


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