Commission asked to investigate claims of undue pressure in case of French sect leader

Valetta, Malta - The Commission for the Administration of Justice has been asked by the Chief Justice to investigate lawyer Emy Bezzina's claims of wrongdoing in the case involving the French sect leader, as well as the "garbled" way in which he presented his case.

In a decree yesterday, Chief Justice Vincent de Gaetano said the commission ought to investigate Dr Bezzina's claims about undue pressure being placed on the court by the Attorney General's office and about a breach of his client's right to a fair hearing by an impartial tribunal.

The case involves French sect leader Alain Schmitt, 49, who filed a Constitutional Appeal contesting an April judgment which had thrown out his claims of breaches of human rights in the way he and his partner, Laurence Liegeios, had been treated by the police, in prison and by the courts.

Ms Liegeios, 47, left the island after withdrawing her case, saying she was missing her eight-year-old son, who had been in Malta but was then sent to live with his grandparents in France after she was detained. In France, she is serving a 15-month term out of prison, wearing an electronic tag so she can be monitored by the authorities.

Mr Schmitt stayed on to fight the case but last Thursday filed an application in court to withdraw his appeal.

Although Mr Schmitt was present during the sitting yesterday in which his application was heard and taken cognizance of, Dr Bezzina was not.

In his 57-page appeal filed in April, Dr Bezzina raised a number of grievances on behalf of his client, mainly on the lack of a fair hearing by an impartial tribunal and within a reasonable time.

He also claimed that the prosecution, who were lawyers from the AG's office, had exerted undue continuous pressure on the court, influencing it to hand down decisions against his client.

He mentioned among others, his client's requests for bail, to testify before the court and bring new evidence, both in terms of witnesses as well as documentation.

Referring to a specific paragraph of Dr Bezzina's appeal document, Chief Justice de Gaetano said this contained a number of allegations against the AG's Office as well as against the First Hall of the Civil Court and, indirectly, against the Court of Criminal Appeal.

He said these claims ought to be investigated by the commission, even in the light of "the garbled way in which the facts and the grievances were presented in the appeal".

Chief Justice de Gaetano said the commission should see whether it should take any action against Dr Bezzina, who signed the appeal.

Contacted for his comments, Dr Bezzina expressed his satisfaction that the court had finally acknowledged Mr Schmitt's claims ought to be investigated.

He said the claims that should have been investigated by the First Hall of the Civil Court in its Constitutional jurisdiction would now be investigated by the commission after a referral by the Constitutional appeals court.

"This is a U-Turn of the Maltese judicial system. No one ever took my client seriously and he had to spend more than five months in jail without any form of contact visits, except with his lawyer. Now, finally, the court is acknowledging the claims should be investigated," he said.

Dr Bezzina said his client had withdrawn the appeal because he had reached "breaking point".

On the part which refers to the garbled and confused way in which the appeal was presented, Dr Bezzina said this appeal was legally non-existent as it had been withdrawn.