Constitutional Court Says Judge Need Not Recuse Himself on Clerical Abuse Case
April 28, 2016
|Judge J.R. Micallef was told he did not need to recuse himself on a case concerning clerical sex abuse|
A Constitutional court has turned down a request that it order a judge to recuse himself from hearing a case asking for damages for clerical sex abuse, due to his involvement in church-related organisations
Judge Mark Chetcuti delivered the judgement in the Constitutional case filed this May by eleven victims of clerical sex abuse, after Judge Joseph R. Micallef had turned down their request that he abstain from deciding the claim.
The plaintiffs had been seeking redress after suffering abuse at the hands of priests whilst they had been children in Church care in the late 80s and early 90s. Carmelo Pulis and Godwin Scerri, both now defrocked, had been jailed, for 5 and 6 years respectively, for their cruelty and abuse against the boys in July 2011, confirmed on appeal in November 2012.
But when the subsequent civil case for damages against the Archdiocese of Malta was assigned to Mr. Justice Micallef, a staunch Catholic and president of the Malta Radio Maria Association, the men filed a request that the judge recuse himself, citing a perceived risk of pro-church bias on the part of the judge.
Micallef did not uphold their request and the men had then, in April 2015, filed urgent Constitutional proceedings, claiming a breach of their right to a fair trial.
In a sentence handed down this morning, Mr. Justice Chetcuti held that, after a detailed and objective review of the evidence, he could find no basis for the men's fears. Radju Marija is a lay organisation, completely financed by donations from the faithful and had no assistance from the Archdiocese, noted the court.
The plaintiff's argument that Micallef had not fired Radju Marija's Director, Fr. Charles Fenech, who is also facing criminal proceedings for sex abuse, was evidence of his favouritism, had no basis in fact, held the court. Even if Micallef had sympathy for Fenech or was uncomfortable asking for his resignation, there was no evidence of any kind showing the judge to be biased.
Neither was there evidence that judge Micallef had been found guilty of a breach of ethics by the Commission for the Administration of Justice.
The court pointed out that, even in the eventuality of an unfavourable judgement by Micallef. the applicants still had the option of filing an appeal.
“The issue is purely one of a declaration of responsibility and condemnation to payment of damages inflicted by men who, at the time, had been priests and had been found guilty of the criminal offence of sexual abuse. It certainly does not hinge on beliefs.”
Were the court to accept the plaintiff's argument it would mean that any judge who has any opinion; be it political, religious, sports-related or cultural, would always rule in favour of the party who shares that opinion, Chetcuti held.
The court stressed that whilst any judge would natually have his personal opinions on every aspect of life, he was also solemnly obliged through a sworn commitment to put those opinions aside when meting out justice.
Lawyers Patrick Valentino and Franco Vassallo represented the claimants.