Both Keith Schembri and former Opposition leader Simon Busuttil said they have no knowledge of the identity of the person who approached Magistrate Victor Axiak suggesting he recuses himself from a libel case instituted and dropped by the Prime Minister’s chief of staff.
Last Monday, as soon as he started the hearing, Magistrate Axiak informed the court he was approached outside the courtroom by a “third party” on behalf of one of the parties in the case, asking him to recuse himself as he had once represented the Prime Minister’s top aide when he was still a practising lawyer.
Magistrate Axiak also informed the court that only a few hours after the approach, he had also informed the President of Malta about the encounter.
The President of Malta also serves as the president of the Commission for the Administration of Justice, the judiciary’s watchdog.
A spokesman for the former Opposition leader said he had no say in the approach. In fact, lawyer Peter Fenech, representing Dr Busuttil, declared immediately in court that he had no problem with Magistrate Axiak to continue hearing the case.
We had no interest in getting rid of Magistrate Axiak and we didn’t even know that he used to do some work for Kasco- Busuttil's spokesman
“We had no interest in getting rid of Magistrate Axiak and we didn’t even know that he used to do some work for Kasco Ltd or Nexia BT, the two companies associated with the Prime Minister’s chief of staff,” Dr Busuttil’s spokesman said.
It would be very interesting if the public is informed who tried to influence and put pressure on the case
“However, it would be very interesting if the public is informed who tried to influence and put pressure on the case,” the spokesman said.
Mr Schembri also denied the approach, when asked.
“No,” was his only response when asked whether someone in his name had approached the magistrate.
Mr Schembri also replied with a categorical “no” when asked whether he had given instructions to someone to pass a message to the magistrate.
The magistrate used to work for a law firm which used to represent Mr Schembri’s various business interests before 2010.
Dr Edward Gatt, representing Mr Schembri, told the court that he felt the magistrate ought to step down.
He explained that Dr Axiak had represented Mr Schembri in the past and that some of the questions which were to be raised in the court room could provide a potential conflict of interest.
Magistrate Axiak denied the request and ordered Mr Schembri to continue with the case and face cross-examination. The chief of staff decided to withdraw the case altogether to avoid cross-examination.
Contacted to name the “third party” who had approached him, a spokesman for Dr Axiak said the magistrate was prohibited from speaking to the press according to the Code of Ethics.
On the other hand, President George Vella, who was given all the details by Magistrate Axiak, did not reply to questions by the time of writing.
Dr Vella was asked what action, if any, will he be taking following the magistrate’s report.
According to the law, litigants in a case cannot speak to the judge or magistrate outside the courtroom nor send any form of correspondence about their case. Their lawyers are also barred from doing so.
A judge or magistrate who receives any such communication, even from third parties, about a case pending before him or which is likely to start in court, is obliged by law either to disclose such correspondence in open court or, in certain cases, to transmit that communication to the President of Malta.
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