Charles Mercieca not only went behind the Attorney General’s back to recommend that a jail term imposed on a corrupt public official be overturned on appeal – he also went against the office’s recommendations, Nationalist Party MP Jason Azzopardi said this evening.
In an adjournment speech in Parliament, Azzopardi followed up on his claims that Mercieca – who controversially switched from the AG’s Office to Yorgen Fenech’s defence team – acted unethically to overturn the 4-year jail term imposed on former Fisheries Department employee Francis Caruana.
Mercieca represented his employer when the sentence was appeal, and said that the Attorney General no longer sought an effective jail term in the case. Judge Consuelo Scerri Herrera converted the jail term into a 3-year probation term. Azzopardi also raised questions about the judge, noting that Mercieca had been a frequent guest at her home as a close friend of her son.
Azzopardi followed up on these claims this evening, noting that when Caruana’s case was being heard in the Magistrate’s Court, his defence team had asked for probation.
However, on that occasion, the senior lawyer representing the Attorney General’s Office strongly objected to this, as did the prosecuting inspector, the MP said. In their objection, they noted that the case was particularly serious since it involved a public official. Both, Azzopardi emphasised, acted “very correctly” when they did so.
“But in whose interest did Mercieca act,” he subsequently asked.
Bedingfield lashes out at Standards Commissioner
Earlier in today’s sitting, government whip Glenn Bedingfield lashed out at Commissioner for Standards in Public Life George Hyzler for throwing out his complaint against Azzopardi. Bedingfield had claimed Azzopardi abused parliamentary privilege to attack Judge Scerri Herrera, and also claimed that the MP must have a spy at the Attorney General’s Office who was illegally breaking professional secrecy.
In a letter sent to Bedingfield – which Azzopardi, in copy, made public – Hyzler said that it was the responsibility of the Speaker to “censure any improper or wrongful conduct” by MPs carried out in his presence. He also said that it was not his remit to refer the matter to the police simply on the basis of a complaint received.
While the MP said that he respected Hyzler’s decision, he questioned the purpose of his position when it refused to look into such complaints.
He also noted that the Speaker had declared that he had no power to act when MPs abused parliamentary privileges to make allegations against third parties, and expressed his hope that reforms would soon grant these parties a right to reply.