There was something Robert Abela said in Parliament when he was reacting to yesterday’s Court of Appeal decision that really blew my top off. Watch this from his speech in Parliament yesterday.

I want to transcribe and translate what he said:

“If a judge does not decide how they want them to, they and civil society led by the brother of that one on the opposition front bench, they’ll break them, they’ll crush them, they’ll humiliate them, and they will use all forms of intimidation so that next time, to avoid being subjected to their slimy criticism, they rule as they would want them.”

There’s a lot of pronouns in that so I’m going to fill them out for you:

‘If a judge does not rule in a way that pleases the Nationalists, the PN and Repubblika led by Robert Aquilina will break them, crush them, humiliate them, and intimidate them so that next time the judge rules in a way that pleases the Nationalists to avoid their negative reaction.’

If you want to see me in a pure emotional state barely containing my anger – wouldn’t know why anyone might be into that sort of thing but what you inflict on yourself is up to you – there’s a recording of my real time reaction to that prime ministerial statement which I first saw while on Repubblika’s Facebook Live yesterday.

Spare yourself the splutter. I’ll put it coolly here.

At face value Robert Abela is bashing civil society. That a prime minister of a democracy uses the collective term ‘civil society’ to tarnish their collective reputation is quite extraordinary. The reference to the fact that he described Robert Aquilina as “the leader of civil society” is quite incredible. I’m not sure the Legion of Mary, the Richmond Foundation, Malta Today, the Faculty of Medicine, the Association of French Expats in Malta, and the Jehova’s Witnesses would agree they are followers of Robert Aquilina, nor would they want to be painted by the same brush.

But the prime minister clearly needs to discredit all civil society as “Nationalist”, the frantic reaction you would expect from a man under siege. It’s a more sophisticated version of Dom Mintoff’s “if you’re not with us, you must be against us”.

But this is just what at first appears. His remarks there were not quite a bash at civil society’s expense. He, rather, was flattering of their influence suggesting they have somehow the means to control a court from outside the court room. I’ll come back to that.

What’s more important here is that Robert Abela was telling the public that they can no longer rely on the objectivity of a court’s ruling in cases where his government is a party because our chicken shit judges do not have the spine to decide according to the law or according to their conscience but merely to avoid the angry reaction of “civil society”.

Robert Abela is not looking to discredit civil society. He’s merely branding us ‘nationalist’ which is his collective adjective to substitutes for ‘enemy’ or ‘not us’. He is, rather, and far more seriously, looking to discredit the judiciary, accusing it of allowing itself to be a hostage to the whims of Repubblika. Doesn’t matter it’s Repubblika. They are not beholden to the law but beholden to someone.

It’s no coincidence that he makes this remark in Parliament on the day the three most senior judges of the land find his government complicit in a fraud at the expense of the public. Anyone who’s ever been in the courts of judges Mark Chetcuti, Giannino Caruana Demajo, and Anthony Ellul would find the notion that they would even blink under the force of a devastating hurricane, a furious prime minister, or the criticism of a civil rights group, entirely laughable.

But most people listening to Robert Abela have no idea what the stern, impassive faces of those judges look like, which is, incidentally, as it’s meant to be. Those people listening will always prefer to think that a judge has found their party responsible for wrongdoing because the nasty nationalists pulled their string rather than because the evidence is overwhelming.

Robert Abela’s assault on the judiciary was over a court decision that merely confirmed February’s ruling. He or his government are in no way effected (materially speaking, if not politically) by the Appeals Court order to pay a share of the court expenses. It’s going from one government pocket to the other, a pure accounting exercise.

Imagine how Robert Abela is going to treat the judiciary when and if they come close to hearing criminal cases against the people who did the colluding documented yesterday by the court. It’s not that hard to imagine. When the police searched Joseph Muscat’s home on a magistrate’s order, the prime minister took the microphone to accuse the magistrate of following motivations which were other than justice.

How’s that for an assault on the independence of the judiciary? How can the abuse of the power of the prime minister compare with the criticism of an NGO?

Robert Abela rehearsed a speech yesterday in Parliament. He plans to deliver it again. He accused others of what he knows he expects to do himself: to wring the judiciary’s arm, clipping their independence to avoid them deciding in a way that would displease him for fear that he would mobilise the public against them.

This will get ugly. But his plan won’t work.