The web of diabolical connections that fostered the climate of impunity, which then facilitated Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder, has given rise to a widespread climate of suspicion.
The culture that was allowed, encouraged even, to take root on Joseph Muscat’s watch is now forcing many law-abiding citizens to look suspiciously at every person who holds some form of power, be it political, regulatory or commercial.
Those involved in the governance of the country and the upholding of the rule of law must take it upon themselves to prove they can be trusted to fulfil their duties without fear or favour. Those holding high office must consistently prove, by both word and deed, that when it comes to fulfilling their obligations to the public they serve, they are whiter than white.
Any declaration about wrongdoing or conflict of interest needs to be viewed within this context, irrespective of the source. When a lawyer recently raised the possibility of conflict of interest in a judge who was about to decide on a bail application by Yorgen Fenech, he was reflecting a suspicious society that, once bitten, is now twice shy.
By his decision, the judge in question laid to rest the doubts that had been raised about his trustworthiness and correctness. His action went far beyond any explanation he might have given.
Regretfully, in the aftermath of that ‘incident’, further suspicions were raised.
The Chamber of Advocates reported the lawyer in question to the Commission for the Administration of Justice, saying his posts about the judge could have affected the judge’s tranquillity and objectivity.
That stand could, prima facie, jar with a statement the chamber had made in June when it lamented attacks being carried out on lawyers “solely for carrying out their duties”.
“The Chamber of Advocates believes that, for the rule of law to truly prevail, it is essential that all lawyers are allowed to carry out their professional duties freely and without fear of feeling intimidated or threatened,” it rightly insisted then.
It is, of course, correct that the chamber should defend other court officials and the legal process itself. But it must also show it is consistent in its efforts to uphold standards of justice.
It would be appropriate, therefore, for the chamber to update the public on the outcome of a letter its president had said would be sent to the attorney general asking her “to assess the matter” after a member of the AG’s office resigned to join Fenech’s defence team.
On another occasion, the chamber announced it would be asking the committee for advocates and legal procurators within the Commission for the Administration of Justice to look into a Times of Malta report. This was about an incident in which a member of Fenech’s legal team tried to hand over hundreds of euros to a Times of Malta journalist. In this case too, the public would appreciate learning the outcome of the chamber’s request.
The two cases go back to May and November 2020 respectively. The nature of both demanded urgent attention. Some result would by now be expected.
In its quest to ensure warranted lawyers are of “good conduct and good morals”, to use the wording of the law, the Chamber of Advocates must surely feel it can take the people into its trust and put their minds at rest that such cases are being dealt with to its satisfaction.
The public expects transparency in matters of high national importance such as these, where the integrity of the justice process is at stake.
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