by Dr Edric Micallef Figallo – Associate
COVID-19 has plagued the world with pandemic violence, a pandemic so declared by the World Health Organization (WHO). On Wednesday 11th March 2020, WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared that “WHO has been assessing this outbreak around the clock, and we are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction. We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic.” COVID-19 is a type of coronavirus, and in this writing the two terms are interchangeable.
Please excuse the pun, but coronavirus is on everyone’s tongue at the moment. It is the talk of the town, and although it is clear that it is recommended otherwise, one still sees too many people around. On the 25th March The Times of Malta reported that Superintendent of Public Health, Prof. Charmaine Gauci, stated that “Some squares are still full of elderly people meeting up with others their age. This means they are at risk of getting the virus.” This is particularly alarming, considering the heightened vulnerability of those concerned.
Doom and gloom aside, we thought it fit (pun intended) to try and be positive and refer to history for inspiration.
“A peste, bello et fame liberet nos Deus omnipotens”, so exclaimed the Piedmontese lawyer Giovanni Francesco Bellezia back in 1630 to pray to the omnipotent God to free us from plague, war and famine (his words in Latin). This was recorded in the Libro Municipale dei Consigli. Bellezia was a lawyer and a magistrate by profession and back then he was also the mayor of Turin, that same Turin that today is severely plagued by the COVID-19 pandemic, although to a lesser extent than neighbouring Lombardy. History recalls 1630 as an annus horribilis in which the Black Death severely beleaguered Europe, and unfortunately for Lombardy it had also suffered quite a similar and terrible primacy as it does today with the COVID-19 pandemic
Needless to say, Bellezia’s earlier invocation was not without historical reason, for the region was also swept by war, which to our contemporary’s benefit is not the case today. Bellezia was and became a personality of notorious and notable pedigree, and in 1660 he became the first president of the Piedmontese Senate. Bellezia’s notorious record goes beyond the scope of this article, but his record was not exempt from ill fate. He had indeed contracted the black plague but even though he is recorded as having been “infermato egli pure, e giacente in un letto della sua casa” (liberally translated to “although also rendered infirm and lying in bed at his home”), he nonetheless fought on to fulfill his duties and allegedly did so through an unflinching faith in God and a relentless sense of duty to his country.
The so called Black Death had hit Europe before the above episode, around three centuries before. Another web resource reports that the Black Death had, once again, originated in the Far East, passing to Europe through our Sicilian neighbours. We can imagine that the Maltese islands were not fine and dandy. The same web resource states that lawyers through Europe were refusing to assist clients when it came to wills for the dying (though this is most probably referring to the notarial profession).
Some words need to be spent on more contemporary and local situations. We thus make mention of the stand taken on Friday 13th March by the Kamra tal-Avukati with regards to our professional duties and the primacy due to everybody’s health. The Kamra tal-Avukati had called upon the Government to order the closure of the Court buildings, for the understandable reason that the continuous and substantial presence of people in the same building was a danger to the health of all. From that day onwards, lawyers were instructed not to attend to their usual duties in respect of the higher interest of public health. Thankully, the Government prudently heeded those words and ordered the requested closure as effective on Monday 16th March, thus diligently avoiding unneeded controversy.
In conclusion, we hope that the current COVID-19 pandemic cannot be compared to the Black Death and while we cannot by words compare ourselves to examples such as those of Bellezia when it comes to sacrificial duty and honour, we are also currently seeking to safeguard and promote the interests of our clients and we are doing so in as much as practically and legally possible.
We are today blessed by technological advancements and remain available through our phones and emails. This is a pandemic for all, but it is no holiday for us. Stay safe.
Disclaimer: This article is not to be considered as legal advice, and is not to be acted on as such. Should you require further information or legal assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org.