The Faculty of Laws at the University of Malta is holding its fifth foundation day commemoration tomorrow. It will be conferring its Award for Academic Excellence on Chief Justice Emeritus Giuseppe Mifsud Bonnici who retired last year after lecturing for almost half a century.
He was born in Cospicua on July 17, 1930, the second child of Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici, Il-Gross, and Maria née Ross. His father is considered in historical documentation and collective memory as one of the leading criminologists and most brilliant orators in the rooms and corridors of the Maltese legislature and law courts of all times.
His mother was the daughter of Francesco Saverio Ross, a medical officer of the Malta Customs.
Giuseppe’s eldest sister, Josette, died at the age of eleven months. His youngest brother is none other than President Emeritus Ugo Mifsud Bonnici, a stalwart politician, prolific writer, charismatic University teacher, a foremost exponent of Maltese culture, a protagonist in the grand constitutional achievements of the Maltese people, of Independence and the Republic, in the second half of the 20th century.
Mifsud Bonnici is a member of the most distinguished political and legal households in Malta. His progenitors were Giuseppe Mifsud, a cleric, and Olympia Bonici whose family of noble extraction was founder of the arch-parish church of Żejtun. He belongs to the Cottonera stock but other descendants originating from Qormi included formidable individuals varying from ascetic poets to engineering scientists of the highest quality.
Giuseppe attended De La Salle College, St Edward’s College, St Joseph School in Paola and the Seminary in Gozo. His father Carmelo was a staunch defender of the Roman Catholic apostolic religion and appertained to the Italianate culture with emphasis on the Maltese identity, but Umberto Primo was out of the question for the education of his children.
Giuseppe was trained with the Freres because his father preferred them as much as he excluded the Jesuits, for a still unknown reason, from the curriculum of studies of his children. No doubt, Giuseppe found inspiration in his father who dressed him, in his boyhood, like Benjamin Disraeli.
The young Giuseppe continued with his learning at the lyceum and the University of Malta from where he graduated Doctor of Laws in 1958.
Meanwhile, he was also very active in extra-curricular initiatives and was president of the University Students’ Council from 1951 to 1958. Indeed, he proceeded with his training in philosophy of law at the Istituto Giorgio del Vecchio within the University of Rome, Italy.
He was appointed lecturer in philosophy of law in 1966 and professor of the same subject matter in 1988. St Ambrose, St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas have been on the tip of his tongue for almost 50 years.
Mifsud Bonnici was appointed judge of the superior courts of Malta in 1988 and president of the Court of Appeal and the Constitutional Court two years later in 1990. He served as judge of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg for six years from 1992 to 1998.
Giuseppe Mifsud Bonnici is a luminary of a polychromatic character. He has not only figured in the legal, judicial and academic areas. He is also a renowned personality in the field of sports
Back in Malta, he was nominated chairman of the Law Commission in 1999 and chairman of the Commission for Press Ethics from 2001 to 2009. He was chosen to represent Malta in the European Study Group on Civil Law from 2004 to 2009. He was president of the Chamber of Advocates from 1978 to 1983 and president of the Casino Maltese for almost 15 years.
The professor is a luminary of a polychromatic character. He has not onlyfigured in the legal, judicial and academic areas.
He is a renowned personality in the field of sports. He was president of the Malta Football Association between 1968 and 1982. Originally, he was a delegate for St. George’s FC on the MFA council. Paul Debattista (it-Tamlu) of Ħamrun Spartans had persuaded him to accept the Presidency of the MFA. Mifsud Bonnici ended up a member of the UEFA Disciplinary and Control Commission (1970-1982) and served on the EUFA Appeals Board (1982-1984) as well as the World Cup Appeals Board (1982).
He was not only concerned with the administration of local football. Since his childhood, he has been infatuated by the game of chess, certainly more intriguing and mind-boggling than philosophy of law. He won the Malta championship in 1955 when he was in the fourth year of the course of laws. He had as his maestro none other than the late and lamented lexicographer Erin Serracino Inglott who was secretary to his Alma Mater for a time and lived adjacent to the Mifsud Bonnici’s home at Cospicua.
Mifsud Bonnici is a man who believes in appearance. He loves to quote from Clyde Bell who chiselled a fabulous monograph on the art of dressing as an underlying concept of civilisation since Renaissance. Mifsud Bonnici is sure that an adjudicator has to have good manners besides total zeal and perpetual sacrifice. Yet, he is convinced that if one uses soap to wash his face, he will make his image grow older prematurely.
He looked at philosophy of law as equivalent to philosophy of life from the moment he discovered the writings of Oxonian John Finnis.
He published regularly on casuistry, jurisprudence and general themes relating to the fundamental human rights and criminal procedure.
He was president and legal consultant of the Public Transport Association at a time when disputes among the charabanc owners, conductors and dispatchers took years and led to repeated strikes. He was trusted by the three sectors because he was the only person who did not own a motor bus!
He was mostly irritated during his life by the politico-religious confrontations that afflicted his motherland, and the general unbridled chase for money. He cherishes three personal achievements.
First of all, he was the initiator of a motion in the Chamber of Advocates, countenanced by Sir Anthony Mamo that induced the Bench in 1965 into reaching a unanimous agreement so that all judicial causes would start according to appointments, and end in the shortest time. When he was elevated to the judgeship in 1988, he issued a circular to all advocates to clarify and explain that he would follow such a system. He managed to decide over 1,000 cases in a couple of years.
Secondly, he was the proposer and redactor of the constitutional amendments that set up the Commission for the Administration of Justice in 1994. He was its first vice-president.
Thirdly, he was instrumental in excluding any judge from every temptation to become head of State. He was the first chief justice to persuade Prime Minister Edward Fenech Adami into establishing that the president of the courts would not automatically be made President of Malta in the latter’s absence.
Giuseppe married Maria née Cremona, a graduate in pharmacy in 1954 and the daughter of the able Felic Cremona, an authority on commercial law, who was also of intellectual stimulation to him. They had three daughters: Josette, Maricarm and Anna who is also an advocate.
Mifsud Bonnici has always emphasised that his greatest fortune was the fact that he was “Beato Fra Le Donne”.
Ray Mangion is Head of Department, Legal History & Methodology, Faculty of Laws, University of Malta.