Having successfully knocked magistrate Nadine Lia off a case concerning Pilatus Bank, Repubblika president Robert Aquilina is now out to have her removed from a case concerning himself personally.
Aquilina filed a court application on Friday, asking the court to reassign a criminal case concerning Joseph Schembri to a different magistrate.
Schembri is accused of having made threatening comments against Aquilina, having written on Facebook that the Repubblika president and notary “deserves to be hanged from the nearest pole.”
Aquilina has already asked Lia to step aside from the case, but the magistrate dismissed that request earlier this month – despite the prosecution also agreeing with the recusal request.
The magistrate dismissed the recusal request after the prosecuting inspector was unable to quote the legal clause on which he was basing the request, Malta Today had reported.
Aquilina has now made a second legal bid to have the case reassigned, noting that a higher court had this week upheld a challenge that Repubblika filed against Lia in a separate case.
Judge Ian Spiteri Bailey on Wednesday ordered that Lia be removed from a case that Repubblika filed seeking to have former Pilatus Bank officials prosecuted.
The NGO’s concerns about bias were “real and founded” given the circumstances, the court ruled, as it also noted the hostile tone that Lia and Repubblika had towards each other.
Lia had previously turned down multiple requests made by the NGO to recuse herself from the case.
The recusal dispute stems from Lia’s family ties to lawyer Pawlu Lia, who represents Joseph Muscat, the Labour Party and various other key figures from the Muscat-era administration. He also provided the terms of reference for the Egrant inquiry, which Pilatus Bank played a key role in.
Repubblika argued that the magistrate's familial ties presented a clear conflict of interest in this case, as anything that damaged Pilatus Bank or exposed its workings risked causing harm to her father-in-law's clients.
Aquilina has also claimed that Pawlu Lia accosted him in public and verbally threatened him, citing the recusal battle that Repubblika was fighting against his daughter-in-law.
In his most recent court application, filed on Friday, Aquilina argued that it would be “illogical” for him to have to rely on magistrate Lia for legal protection, given that context.
Aquilina said that the threats he faced in this case had prompted Scottish PEN to write to local authorities to express concern and Irish-based human rights organisation Frontline Defenders to provide him and his family with security protection.
The court application was signed by lawyer Jason Azzopardi.