Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi and veteran lawyer Pawlu Lia faced each other once again in another libel session barely 24 hours after Wednesday’s rowdy hearing in Minister Owen Bonnici’s libel case came to an abrupt end.
Azzopardi was expected to return to the witness stand in separate libel proceedings filed against him by Minister Carmelo Abela over a Facebook post wherein he claimed that the minister was linked to the failed armed robbery at HSBC in Qormi back in 2010.
But before the MP had stepped onto the witness stand, Magistrate Rachel Montebello, who also presided Wednesday’s hearing in the other libel case, had some firm words for both Azzopardi and Lia, who is also representing Abela.
“Yesterday’s behaviour is not acceptable. The court is astounded as to how two lawyers, both court officials, could behave in such manner,” the magistrate said sternly, observing that during Wednesday’s shouting match she could not make herself heard.
“I can explain,” started off Lia.
“The court expects an apology not an explanation,” the magistrate replied.
“I do apologise to the court. But the witness must also control himself,” rebutted the lawyer, referring to Azzopardi’s comments during the previous day’s testimony.
“I also apologise, but I won’t retract anything I said. No one except the court has the right to censure a witness,” Azzopardi promptly added.
While accepting those apologies, the magistrate pointed out that the chief court marshal had been summoned during the hearing to ensure that calm and order prevailed.
“Your duty is to show respect towards the court,” went on the magistrate adding that court is not a political platform.
“I’m no politician. I never was. In my 40-year career I never experienced this,” remarked Lia, while Abela stood silently behind his lawyer.
When Azzopardi finally took the witness stand and the hearing proceeded calmly, Lia asked a question concerning the final line of the MP’s allegedly defamatory post.
“What telephone calls, via Signal, did Carmelo Abela allegedly make and how do you know this?”
But Azzopardi explained that he would rather divulge the answer behind closed doors, adding that he had acquired that information in the course of his duties elsewhere.
“Let me just say, for correctness’ sake that that last line of my post did not apply to the applicant [Abela],” said Azzopardi.
“That sentence refers to a former politician,” he added.
Upon confirmation that the term “accomplice” in the said post did not refer to Abela, the minister’s lawyer said that he had no further questions for the MP.
“I’m happy with that.”
The hearing came to a calm end as the court deferred the case to next month.
Lawyer Joseph Zammit Maempel assisted Azzopardi.
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