Clerical Abuse Victims Lose Bid to Stop Judge from Hearing Financial Compensation Case
April 28, 2016
A court has turned down a request by the victims of clerical sex abuse to have their compensation case reassigned.
Lawrence Grech, Joseph Magro, Leonard Camilleri, David Cassar, Noel Dimech, Angelo Spiteri, Raymond Azzopardi, Charles Falzon, Philip Cauchi and Joseph Mangion had filed a case for compensation after Godwin Pulis and Carmelo Scerri had been found guilty of sexually abusing them at the St Joseph Home in Santa Venera in the late 80s.
The accused were sentenced to five and six years in prison and were later defrocked. Their sentences were confirmed on appeal.
The compensation case had been assigned to Mr Justice J.R. Micallef but the plaintiffs had requested the judge to recuse himself. They argued that since he was the President of the catholic Radju Maria radio station he could not be impartial. The judge had turned down the request and the plaintiffs then filed a separate constitutional application requesting the case to be reassigned.
The application was filed against the Attorney General, the Missionary Society of St Paul, the Archdiocese of Malta, Godwin Scerri and Charles Pulis. The men claimed a breach of their fundamental right to a fair hearing.
They argued that the radio stationís main aim is to spread catholic teaching and the judge should refrain from hearing the case if there was even the slightest possibility of a conflict of interest.
The AG argued that their complaint was baseless and they were practically claiming that the case was prejudiced against them before it had even been concluded. Maltese law, the AG said, provide the necessary safeguards to ensure a fair hearing. The fact that the Judge practices a certain faith and is involved in a religious radio station does not mean that he cannot be impartial and objective.
The Curia said their argument was fallacious. It was also up to the complainants to prove that there was a lack of impartiality and this had not been achieved. Using the same argument, the tables would be turned against the curia were the courts to assign a non-Catholic judge.
The court, presided by Mr Justice Mark Chetcuti, said the personal impartiality of a judge must be presumed until there is proof to the contrary.
It also noted that as president of the station, the judge was not directly involved in the broadcast content. If anything, their argument was in line with church teaching that justice must be carried out with those who deserved it.
The plaintiffs had also argued that the radio station management had failed to take steps against the director, Fr Charles Fenech, when he started being investigated on sexual abuse claims. This, in itself, showed that the judge was biased, they claimed. (Fr Fenech only resigned in October 2014 when he was charged in court). But the court said this argument did not hold water since Fr Fenech is not a part of this case. Also, the station has no association to the Curia.
The complainants had also argued that rules bar members of the judiciary from forming part of certain associations if this can lead to impartiality. But the court said this was a matter for the commission for the administration of justice and no proof had been presented to show that the judge had broken the code of ethics by being President of Radju Marija.
The court also said the case is ongoing and, if there is some sort of prejudice in the future, the complainants would be able to resort to legal remedies.
Mr Justice Chetcuti turned down the request and Mr Justice Micallef will continue hearing the compensation case.
Patrick Valentino and Franco Vassallo appeared for the complainants.