Buhagiar, William (4.4.1909-14.3.1982)

President of the Imperial High Court of Ethiopia.

Buhagiar was one of the few Maltese jurists who distinguished themselves in the colonial service during the British period in Maltese history.

The son of the second prime Minister of Malta, Francesco Buhagiar and Elisa Said, Buhagiar was born in Va-Iletta. At the age of 19 he entered the faculty of law at the UM. In 1930 he was selected as Rhodes scholar and he read juriisprudence at Exeter College, obtaining his BA in 1932.Later he did a post-graduate degree in common law. (BCL) in 1933. He returned to the UM from where in 1934 he graduated LL.D. Eventually he was called to the English Bar, joining Lincoln's Inn in 1939. Between 1938 and 1939 he completed further studies inpublic andprivat international law and inconstitutional law at the London School of Ecfpomics.

After practising private Law in Malta, in 1940 Buhagiar was appointed professor in constitutional law and in public and private international law at the RUM. A year later he joined the attorney gencral's office as crown counsel where he served till 1947.

During the war Buhagiar had had daily contacts at the crown advocate general office's with Mr Peter Bell, the govemor's general advisor. In 1946 Bell was appointed solicitor general in Kuala Lumpur and in 1947, he offered Buhagiar a job as assistant legal draughtsman in Kuala Lumpur. Reluctant at first, he eventually decided to accept for he wanted a more challenging place where to apply what he had learned.

After about three years as legal draughtsman in the federal legal department of Malaya, Buhagiar was promoted to the federal council. Soon afterwards he was appointed a judge of the supreme court of the Federation. He became the first non-Britisher to serve as a judge m Malaya. In this role he not only familiarized himself with the varied legal systems of that country, but also travelled extensively. As the junior on the Bench, he was the one most often asked to travel around to sit in different courts from the north-west to the south-east. It was at the legal department in Kuala Lumpur that Buhagiar came to know very well Tunku Abdul Rahman, the prime minister of Malaya.

In 1957, shortly before the country obtained independence, Buhagiar left Malaya. Once again, he was recommended for another prestigious job, this time in Ethiopia. His former boss in Kuala Lumpur, Sir Charles Mathew, who was chief justice in Malaya during Buhagiar's time, in 1956 became 'judicial advisor' to Emperor Haile Selassie. It was Mathew who recommended Buhagiar who was invited to go to Ethiopia to become president of the High Court.

Buhagiar's new duties in Ethiopia were to help in the organization of the courts and advise the 120 judges of the high court in the administration of justice. As president of the high Court, the supreme legal organ in the judicial system, he had jurisdiction over district courts and sub-district courts. Buhagiar's maim contribution was in the highly complex field of land reform where he introduced the system known as 'registration of title'. He also drafted laws on private international relations and (m evidence, and also a revised law on elections.

Before Buhagiar left Ethiopia in April 1969 he was decorated with a gold medal, showing the Ethiopian Coptic Cross and with m inscription in Amharic. He took up residence in Geneva where he died in 1982.

Buhagiar was married to Marysia and they had a son, Jan.

Source: Maltese Biographies of the Twentieth Century (1997), editors Michael J. Schiavone and Louis J. Scerri

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