Judge Antonio Mizzi, spouse of Labour MEP Marlene Mizzi and presumed candidate for the upcoming vacancy of Chief Justice of the Maltese courts, was due today to hear an Appeal filed by Joseph Muscat and the rest of the Panama Gang against a lower court’s order for the Panama scandal to be investigated.
His first decision was to throw out the public and the press from the court room.
Judge Mizzi must have known his decisions in this case would be subject to scrutiny. He’s already been asked to take a few very significant decisions.
Firstly he was asked to follow the guidance of the law and treat the matter with urgency. He has replied to that request by dragging his feet like your average local lawyer in the Santa Marija week: with the enthusiastic lethargy of a particularly sleepy sloth. The next hearing has been scheduled for 11th September because, one must assume, this cold case can and should get colder.
Secondly he was asked to recuse himself from hearing this case because however he may dodge external forces that surround him, the requirement for justice to be seen to be done by the rest of us mere mortals demands that the husband of a Labour politician who has repeatedly and rabidly pronounced judgement on the Panama matters should stay as far as possible from this case.
He has not formally ruled about recusing himself. But he has actively pronounced himself on the sensitivity to the transparent workings of justice.
Justice must be seen to be done, you say? Particularly in a case where the judiciary is being asked to keep in check the executive from abusing its powers? OK, everyone out of the courtroom then. Let’s do this behind closed doors.
No one can claim to be inside Judge Mizzi’s head. But we can start forming some opinions on his actual actions.
The law guides him to treat a case like this urgently and transparently and he’s doing neither. It would obviously be speculation to attribute motive for these decisions as in any case they are within the discretion that the law allows him.
No one can definitively conclude Judge Mizzi is acting in a certain way to accommodate his wife’s boss or even to ingratiate himself with the bosses that may be considering him for promotion. But anyone, I would argue, can suggest that this is a case where we can all understand the whole point of having judicial independence from the executive. Judge Mizzi’s independence is guaranteed not as a perk or some status symbol like a car and driver.
His independence is guaranteed in order to ensure that prime ministers suspected of crime are made subject to the law as though they were anyone else and to empower the Judge to enforce the law without fear or favour.
Now since judges are human beings and not blindfolded goddesses sporting a sword and a pre-industrial balance, there arise situations where whatever their good will their independence is in jeopardy. Public scrutiny helps mitigate this. But as Judge Mizzi peered over his loosely bound blindfold he threw everyone out of the room and ordered that no one be with him to listen to the arguments he’s being given to confirm the straightforward decision on whether a suspected crime should be investigated.
It is flabbergasting to begin with that the prime minister and his gang are resisting any way they can the conduct of an investigation into their affairs, which, if their denials are truthful, can only confirm their innocence.
A person in Judge Mizzi’s position cannot help being sucked into the reasonable suspicion of suppression of justice. Especially if he lets no one outside himself see that the process he conducts is equitable and fair.
Just because Judge Mizzi could order the courtroom emptied today, does not mean he should have. He should not have.