Judge Ian Spiteri Bailey has recused himself from continuing to hear the constitutional case to have magistrate Nadine Lia recuse herself, following a decision from the Constitutional Court. 

Civil society group Repubblika is challenging the police commissioner to prosecute former Pilatus Bank officials as per the directions given in the conclusions of an inquiry into suspected financial crime at the now-shuttered bank.

However, the NGO does not want this case to continue to be presided over by Magistrate Nadine Lia, claiming that their right to a fair hearing would be breached, in view that she may have a conflict of interest. 

Lia’s father-in-law, Pawlu Lia, was former prime minister Joseph Muscat’s lawyer and also served as counsel to his chief of staff, Keith Schembri.

On October 19, Spiteri Bailey, upheld Repubblika’s request for an interim measure, ordering that the challenge case be assigned to a different magistrate, to which the State Advocate subsequently filed an appeal. 

On Thursday the Constitutional Court partly upheld that appeal and ordered that the case continue to be heard “with urgency”. 

In his Friday ruling, Spiteri Baliey said that what the Constitutional Court had said in its ruling “could be understood to mean that this court, as presided, has already granted an effective and definitive remedy prematurely before hearing of the case on the merits, expressed its opinion on the merits in an early stage of proceedings and that it could have been mistaken in having done so.” 

Given that he had already partially made a decision on the request to have Lia removed from the proceedings, he had decided to abstain from hearing the urgent appeal, he explained. 

Spiteri Bailey noted that abstaining was not a decision he was making lightly and that in the interest of transparency, justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done. 

“In honour of integrity, the presiding judge feels that the truth requires him to abstain from continuing to hear the present case,” the ruling reads. 

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