It is of some comfort that three most senior judges of the land were as unimpressed as we were with the arguments, such as they were, of the Attorney General Victoria Buttigieg and her lawyer the State Advocate Chris Soler that Repubblika’s complaint about Buttigieg’s decisions in the Pilatus case should be heard behind closed doors.

The two most senior lawyers of the land screamed blue murder when Repubblika’s Robert Aquilina started testifying about why we thought there was something wrong about her decisions not to prosecute the owner and bosses of Pilatus Bank. The inquiry into Pilatus Bank has been ready for 3 years and yet only minor prosecutions started. The inquiry’s direction for far more prominent prosecutions have so far been ignored. They’ve been expressly defied in at least two cases where Victoria Buttigieg expressly ruled, she would not prosecute at all.

In theory the inquiry report is secret. In theory an Attorney General’s decision not to prosecute is confidential. But also, in theory and according to the law an AG’s decision not to prosecute is subject to judicial review. That’s what Repubblika did: asked the courts to review the AG’s decision not to prosecute.

Victoria Buttigieg has so far avoided testifying in open court even as she argued that Repubblika has no right to complain in this case. She asked the court to rule on this issue of legal standing before going into the merits of the case, perhaps in the hope that the case would finish before she would have to testify while people who could report what they saw would be allowed in the courtroom.

Quite why one of the most senior lawyers in the country seems to be quaking at the thought of having to answer questions on the witness stand while people watched is hard to understand. In any case her request to have this preliminary issue decided first has been rejected. As has been her plea to have the whole case heard behind closed doors.

They came up with the excuse that since the Pilatus owners sued Malta in an international arbitration case and that case is secret, the matter should not be heard in Malta. They promised to “try” to prove this but produced a letter from the arbitration body that said nothing like what the Attorney General said it would.

The court was unimpressed. The Attorney General appealed and her lawyer the State Advocate tried to argue again that even the appeal should be heard behind closed doors. The appeal was heard in open court and the decision by Chief Justice Mark Chetcuti and senior judges Giannino Caruana Damajo and Anthony Ellul was that there was no reason for the case brought by Repubblika to be heard behind closed doors.

The presumption in any case is that justice is seen to be done. The openness of court proceedings is fundamental to that. Judicial review is done to introduce some measure of transparency to the secretiveness of the government. The fact that the AG and the State Advocate wanted and fought to have their actions and decisions reviewed secretly, binding Repubblika not to reveal what it learnt on pain of dire consequences, betrays one simple thing: they’ve got something to hide.

This was an important win.

Repubblika was represented by Jason Azzopardi.

Watch Repubblika’s press conference announcing the decision this morning.