The Chamber of Advocates refers to statements that have recently appeared in the media in connection with the communication that it received from the Court of Magistrates, whereby Mag. Micallef Stafrace referred to it a matter about the conduct of two lawyers during a court sitting, which the Magistrate described as Il-Qorti tħoss li din l-imġieba hi ta’ disrispett kbir għaliha u tordna notifika lil kamra tal-avukati għal kull provediment li jidhrilhom opportun.
The Chamber has conducted an investigation into the matter, in an attempt to establish the facts that occurred and to which the Court made reference. This was done through interviews with Dr Janice Chetcuti and other members of the profession who happened to be in the same hall at the time of the incident.
On the basis of the information gathered by the Chamber it transpires that whilst Dr Janice Chetcuti was waiting to deal with a case in which she was appearing for a defendant, her cousin Dr Melhino Mercieca, entered the same hall, and greeted Dr Chetcuti, with a short hug and possibly a peck on the cheek that lasted a few seconds.
The Chamber has to express its view that such form of greeting is certainly not appropriate conduct by lawyers in a courtroom and indeed falls below the decorum expected of lawyers in a courtroom, a simple verbal warning in the circumstances would have been in order.
It is clear from the statements made to the Chamber, that the hug was a simple and friendly greeting between cousins, which although inappropriate for a courtroom and indeed might have surprised colleagues, was certainly not such a grave act of misconduct that shocked anyone there. What was extraordinary and indeed shocked other lawyers who happened to be in the same hall at the time, was the magistrate’s disproportionate reaction to what is ultimately a minor infraction of conduct on the part of the two lawyers.
The Chamber finds the Magistrate’s reaction of much greater concern, than the conduct of the lawyers, particularly in the context of the episode in question. Instead of a simple and subdued admonishment, highlighting the inappropriate conduct of the lawyers, which would have elegantly dealt with the situation, and would also have been proportionate to the lack of awareness of time, place and occasion shown by the two lawyers, the Magistrate in question thought fit to resort to an outburst of foul language and conduct that has been described by lawyers who happened to be in the hall at the time, as a frenzy.
To compare Dr Chetcuti’s conduct to that of a “whore” and the “worst criminal” during an open court sitting presided by that magistrate, apart from being grossly disproportionate in the context of the incident, it is totally inappropriate, unacceptable, and intolerable. The Chamber takes a very serious and firm view, when its members are subjected to what can only be termed humiliating treatment by a member of the judiciary and, to add insult to injury, in open court in front of that lawyers’ own client and peers. It transpires that other somewhat descriptive language was used by the Magistrate, which further manifests the lack of any restraint by the magistrate in handling a simple minor infraction of conduct. Such a disproportionate reaction is grossly unfair, not only towards the advocate concerned who has to represent other clients in front of the same magistrate, but it is also unfair on other members of the judiciary who go to great lengths in safeguarding the reputation of the judiciary through their daily efforts in court, some of which against all odds of a lack of resources and administrative support.
The Chamber does not condone, and will therefore not minimise, the transgression of conduct by the lawyers concerned, but neither will it tolerate that its members are humiliated, or even bullied, by a member of the judiciary, who is entrusted ultimately with delivering justice according to law and with determining the future of other people’s lives, but who completely misjudges a simple greeting hug for some “erotic” or “sexual” act, words used by the magistrate in her outburst in court. The Chamber remains astounded by the fact that on the one hand the magistrate thought fit to be so incensed at the occurrence to be described as a frenzy even by other members of the profession who happened to experience it, but then the Court itself having all the power and authority to impose the sanction for contempt of court, failed to go as far as imposing such a sanction, and instead resorted to simply report the matter to the Chamber.
The Chamber must remark that following its verification of the facts of the incident, the description used by the court in its communication to the Chamber is, at best, misleading, as the incident cannot be properly and faithfully described as “li dehrilhom li għandhom joqgħodu jitbewsu waqt seduta”. The use of the term “joqgħodu jitbewsu”, gives the impression of some continuous act, which does not fit the facts as they occurred.
Valletta, 17 June 2022