Council of Europe lambasts Daphne inquiry

COE fully endorses rapporteur Omtzigt's position that the inquiry as currently constituted clearly does not meet the Assembly’s expectations.

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

The Committee on Legal Affairs and Human rights of the Council of Europe  described as “essential” that the inquiry set up by the Maltese government to investigate the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, “… investigates whether the activities of political and public office-holders may have contributed to a general climate of impunity and an atmosphere of hostility towards journalists such as Ms Caruana Galizia, or have improperly impinged upon the investigation into her death.” This position was taken following recommendations which the rapporteur to the CoE, Pieter Omtzigt made, which recommendations were fully endorsed. In Omtzigt’s opinion, “…the inquiry as currently constituted clearly does not meet the Assembly’s expectations.”

The CoE also invited government to address the issues raised as a matter of urgency. The Inquiry was set up by the Maltese government after pressure by the Coe, after Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had declared that there was no need for a second inquiry.

CoE not impressed

In his observations and recommendations, Omtzigt noted that:

  • Whilst the mandate of the inquiry is apparently broad, this mandate may be limited by the detailed description of the purposes of the inquiry, which focus on ‘State entities’ and ‘the State
  • It is essential that the present inquiry investigates whether the activities of political and public office-holders may have contributed to a general climate of impunity and an atmosphere of hostility towards journalists such as Ms Caruana Galizia, or have improperly impinged upon the investigation into her death While the inquiry shall be held in public, there is provision for in camera procedures. “Openness and transparency are absolutely fundamental for the present inquiry to be seen as credible and effective and for its findings to be accepted by the public” wrote Omtzigt, adding that the grounds for in camera hearing have the potential of being very broad. He therefore suggested that “The circumstances in which public access to the present inquiry may be restricted should be specified exhaustively and restrictively.”
  • The credibility of the inquiry, wrote Omtzigt, depends on the public having the greatest possible access, including to its “proceedings and acts”. Furthermore, he added, the family of Ms Caruana Galizia should enjoy a privileged position, including the possibility of presenting procedural motions, questioning witnesses and making submissions.
  • Referring to the timeframe clause, Omtzigt pointed out that the lax wording implies the possibility of considerable delay and as it stands, the clause makes not provision for the obligation of an interim report. “ The inquiry, properly constituted, should also begin its work at the very earliest opportunity. It should be provided with adequate, stable resources for the entire duration of its activities” wrote Omtzigt
  • Echoing the concerns spelled out by rule of law NGO Repubblika and the Caruana Galizia family on the suitability of the members of the board of inquiry, Omtzigt insisted that “ The composition of the Board of Inquiry must be such as to dispel any reasonable criticism of its actual or apparent independence and impartiality, if the public is to have confidence in its work. Given Malta’s small population, the inclusion of international experts could be one way of achieving this.”

Daphne Inquiry: Prof. Refalo not impartial – Repubblika

  • Finally, Omtzigt insisted on the full and immediate publication of the report on completion.

Government reacts on a detail

In a reaction that essentially sought to tarnish Omtzigt’s credibility, Government said that the rapporteur’s declaration is ‘riddled with errors’. The statement mentioned one example: stating that the Commissioner for Voluntary Organisations is safeguarded by security of tenure.

Article 6 of the Voluntary Organisations Act provides for a Commissioner who may be appointed for 3 years and a further three years by government. The incumbent may be removed by the Parliamentary Social Affairs Committee on grounds on inability to perform duties.

Barbed exchange between government and Repubblika

Government complained that Omtzigt, whom it holds has a ‘problem of credibility’ did not ask for government’s views before proceeding with his recommendations. Government alleged that Omtzigt has a tarnished track record in credibility.