Two magistrates are involved in business activities in a personal capacity, breaching the code of ethics, research conducted by the Times of Malta shows.
Though most of the serving members of the judiciary observe the code of ethics in both letter and spirit and relinquished all directorships and shareholdings in commercial entities upon their appointment, the exercise done by this newspaper indicates that two magistrates still occupy posts that appear to be in conflict with their public duties.
Magistrates Joanne Vella Cuschieri and Aaron Bugeja are registered as company secretaries of commercial entities. Dr Vella Cuschieri, a former Labour election candidate elevated to the Bench in 2014, is board secretary of Emaco International Limited, with offices in Valletta. She was appointed company secretary in 2007.
Dr Bugeja, who used to work in the Attorney General’s office prior to his appointment as magistrate in June 2013, is company secretary of S & J (Euroasia Link) Limited, registered in 2004, and he is one of three legal representatives of Tubeline Limited, which has offices in Luqa.
Contacted by the Times of Malta, both Chief Justice Silvio Camilleri and Justice Minister Owen Bonnici said they were not aware that any members of the judiciary were registered as company secretaries.
“I have no knowledge of any member of the judiciary acting as company secretary of private commercial companies,” the Chief Justice said.
Dr Camilleri said that the code of ethics allowed members of the judiciary to own shares in commercial companies.
In many countries, this is not allowed.
Research by this newspaper indicated that a number of magistrates are in fact shareholders in trading commercial companies.
Senior Magistrate Anthony Vella is listed among the shareholders of two companies – Allevs Limited and Vella Imports Limited, both family businesses, and veteran Magistrate Consuelo Scerri Herrera is the owner of C.J.J. Nominee Company Limited, together with her brother, Environment Minister José Herrera.
A number of judges also have shareholdings in commercial entities, although none serve in a directorship role.
Madam Justice Abigail Lofaro owns 16.6 per cent of the stakes of Five Starts Properties Limited, together with her husband, Pierre, a co-owner and the company secretary. This company was formed earlier this year. The judge was appointed to the Bench in 1996.
Mr Justice Antonio Mizzi, a former magistrate who was promoted to judge in 2013, is a shareholder in AMCA Ltd, where his wife, Marlene, a Labour MEP, holds the position of director and company secretary.
Although Mr Justice Mizzi is no longer involved in running the Malta Basketball Association, something for which he was publicly censured by the Commission for the Administration of Justice in 2007, he still appears as a minority shareholder in M.B. Promotions Limited, a company the MBA owns.
Two other judges, Anthony Ellul and Anna Felice, have an insignificant shareholding, less than one per cent, in I.G. Enterprises Ltd and Sirens Developments Company Limited, respectively.
The code of ethics stipulates that “members of the judiciary shall not accept any post that could hinder them or restrict them in the full and correct performance of their duties”. It further states that judges and magistrates “shall not engage in any activity that is in its very nature incompatible with the office they hold” and “shall not exercise any profession, business or trade”. New guidelines issued by the Chief Justice in 2010 watered down the prohibition of any business involvement by members of the judiciary, allowing them to hold shares in commercial entities but not directorships. The guidelines specify that “this applies even if the company is solely owned by the judge and his family”.
Legal sources told this newspaper that in many countries members of the judiciary are banned from any sort of involvement in business but in Malta, it has so far been tolerated.
A senior judge warned, however, that “the position of magistrates also acting as company secretaries is not in any way compatible with their duties”.
Members of the judiciary are not bound to make an annual declaration of assets, as is often the case abroad.
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