Six months have passed since the demise, in January, of this great Labour Party stalwart and most humble, honest, and praiseworthy lawyer and gentleman. Since then, many, ranging from the top leaders of the nation to ordinary citizens, have felt the emotional need to write and express in all forms of media their genuine appreciation and sympathy for the sad loss of another of Malta’s unsung heroes.
I, too, had such an emotional need for expressing my appreciation and sympathy pent up inside me, and I think that now the time has come for me to spill over my thoughts, reminiscences and first-hand experiences I had, indeed, gained from my direct encounters with this stand-out man of formidable character.
Joe lived a life of 87 years full of valuable experiences, ups and downs, laughter and despondency, hope and despair, and every other aspect of life which we have, or will eventually experience and live as we grow older and approach our encounter with the grim reaper.
The year Joe graduated as a lawyer was the same year I was born, and, of course, little did I know that thirty years later we were to frequently cross swords while practising our legal profession within the long corridors and various Halls of the Courts of Justice. I remember the first time we came across each other. I was just a budding lawyer then, whereas he was quite an already established and experienced one, highly respected by all for his expertise, intelligence, knowledge and, most of all, humanity and good judgment. And, oh yes, he was a true and genuine practising catholic notwithstanding the many unjust attacks and actions directed against him by the Catholic Church authorities in Malta.
He was a true and genuine practising catholic notwithstanding the unjust attacks directed against him by the Catholic Church authorities
There I was, standing on rubbery feet and taken over by stage fright on my first pleading in a civil court case dealing with legal liability for damages caused by a serious traffic accident. My client and I were pitted against this renowned icon of the legal profession and were sure to be an uphill struggle, if not a lost cause from the word go. Yet, to my greatest surprise ever, he discreetly came over to me before the case was called for hearing and succinctly pointed out to me where my legal pleading flaws lay and how to redress them so as not to come up a cropper. ‘Good Lord’, I thought to myself, ‘this man must definitely have been an instrument of some kind of divine intervention in my favour!’
Looking back on this anecdote today, more than thirty years of maturity later, I realise how, unknown to me then, he had on the day taken pity on me, seeing me as I was treading on unsure grounds on my first sortie as a legal practitioner, and felt the urge to set me going on the right path and track. Indeed, the first outcomes of cases for a budding inexperienced practising advocate can make or break the person. It is the thin dividing line between professional success or failure.
Others before me have already ably extolled the great honour, virtues and merits deservedly gained and acquired by Joe, be they with respect to his achievements in politics, journalism, court-related work as lawyer and traffic expert, or within the University precincts. Others, too, recalled the great discriminations, hardships, injustices and tribulations which this meek family man suffered and endured with unparalleled patience and silence. He had and shown infinite love and dedication to his family. His sons and daughters were impeccably brought up. I know this directly as I had the honour and pleasure of acquainting myself with one of his sons and my colleague lawyer, Simon, as well as his daughter Magistrate Yana Micallef Stafrace. Both are living proof of what mettle was their father made of. In them continue to live their dad’s capability to cope well with difficulties, spirit and resilience.
I can never pay enough tribute to Joe, an ever-shining example in the mission to administer justice, a fellow member of the court, a lawyer, true, just, and faithful servant of the law. He may have had his brutal critics, detractors and those who wished him harm, having all the harsh words against him. But we who loved him and knew him well; others who saw him grow from a boy who wanted to be anyone but a young man who was enamoured with the romances of law, will forever have awe and admiration for such a passionate, energetic, and hardworking man.
He was a man of the law, a public servant, a very good father, a romantic husband, and a true friend. While those who knew nothing of him had and still harbour a lot of speculations about his person, we who truly knew him, have nothing but good words for him.
As a lawyer, he was a roaring gladiator in the courtroom. He was merciless in his cross-examination, and almost flawless in his pleadings and manifestations. He was courteous to court personnel, respectful to judges, and fair to his opponents. He never refused to defend the accused even if others were either afraid or do not think the client can pay. He was the true apostle of truth, a pillar of justice, and an advocate for the rule of law.
As a lawyer, I also died somehow when Joe passed to the great beyond. I pray that justice is done to his memory for he was an honourable man, and may his memory live on forever.