Court Rules in Favour of Judge Hearing Clerical Sex Abuse Case, Fundamental Right to Fair Hearing "Not Breached"
By Keith Micallef
Times of Malta
April 28, 2016
Mr Justice Joseph R Micallef will continue to preside a case filed by victims of clerical sex abuse at Dar San Guzepp in the late 1980s, who are seeking compensation from the Church.
The victims had questioned the judge’s impartiality on grounds that he presides the Radju Marija Foundation, which they claimed had strong links with the ecclesiastical authorities.
However, Mr Justice Micallef had turned down their request to stop hearing the case, forcing the plaintiffs to file an application before another court.
In a judgment this morning, Mr Justice Mark Chetcuti rejected the victim’s request saying that their fundamental right to a fair hearing had not been breached.
In July 2011, Charles Pulis and Godwin Scerri, both members of the Missionary Society of St Paul’s, were sentenced to six and five years’ imprisonment respectively for sexually abusing 11 boys in their care at St Joseph's Home in Sta Venera in the late 1980s. The sentence had been confirmed on appeal in November 2012.
In his decision, Mr Justice Chetcuti pointed out that the assignment of cases was not the prerogative of judges but was done through a proper mechanism supervised by the court registrar, with no exterior on internal influences.
"After going through the evidence this court cannot conclude that the concerns raised by the victims are founded," Mr Justice Chetcuti ruled.
There was no link between Mr Justice Micallef, Radju Maria and the Church as the latter gave no form of financial support or whatsoever to the radio station, the court said.
The fact that Mr Justice Micallef was a practising Catholic did not imply that he was biased against the victims
The judge presiding the compensation case is only involved in the administration of the station and had no say on its editorial line. The only common ground between the station and the church was the Catholic Religion, the court ruled.
It said that the fact that Mr Justice Micallef was a practising Catholic did not imply that he was biased against the victims.
The issue was to establish responsibility for these criminal acts, which, in turn, reinforced the Catholic beliefs that justice needed to be done regardless of one’s own religious beliefs.
If the court had to accede to the plaintiffs’ request, it would preclude any judge harbouring political, religious, sporting, and cultural beliefs from hearing any case, Mr Justice Chetcuti said.
This would lead to an absurd situation were there would be no judges left, give rise to abuses within the judicial system or lead to a situation where a judge assigned a case on the basis of his beliefs.
The victims had complained that as president of the Radju Marija board, Mr Justice Micallef had not suspended Fr Charles Fenech from director of the station when the latter was charged with sexual abuses over a separate case, which is still pending.
Mr Justice Chetcuti said Fr Fenech was not party in the compensation case and Mr Justice Micallef on his own could not suspend him. Nevertheless, Fr Fenech resigned of his own will, as soon as there was a hint that he would be charged in court.
The plaintiffs also argued the code of ethics of the judiciary precluded judges and magistrates from forming part of associations for fear of jeopardising their impartiality.
In its decision, the court said such considerations were not within its jurisdiction, but within the remit of the Commission for the Administration of Justice.
The court also pointed out that the victims would still have the legal avenues to seek redress if, in the course of the compensation case, they felt they were not being treated in a fair manner.
Lawyers Patrick Valentino and Franco Vassallo appeared for the victims.