Court rules in favour of Azzopardi for stating that Fenech is guilty

Jason Azzopardi Yorgen Fenech

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

The Court found that lawyer Jason Azzopardi was not wrong in saying that he believed that Yorgen Fenech was guilty of complicity in the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

In a judgement delivered on Monday, Magistrate Rachel Montebello acknowledged that the parte civile, namely lawyers Jason Azzopardi and Therese Comodini Cachia who are representing the Caruana Galizia family in court, do not hold an impartial role in the case and hence they have the latitude to operate more freely.

The decision was handed down after Yorgen Fenech, owner of 17 Black – who has now been under pre-trial detention for a year, argued that when Azzopardi said on the radio station 103 Malta’s Heart that he believed Fenech was guilty, he was alleging against the presumption of innocence. Because Azzopardi is also a member of parliament, Fenech’s lawyers stated that what he says influences his constituents, some of whom may have to judge Fenech in the future. In the previous sitting, Fenech’s defence lawyer Charles Mercieca asked lawyer Jason Azzopardi to testify, stating that Azzopardi has a greater responsibility than anyone else, as he is both a lawyer and a member of parliament.

However, in her decision today, the Magistrate observed that in the interview conducted with Jason Azzopardi by Prof. Andrew Azzopardi on the radio station 103 Malta’s Heart, which was then broadcast on Newsbook.com.mt’s Facebook page, Azzopardi was introduced as “Jason Azzopardi, the lawyer of the Caruana Galizia family,” and subsequently, as “Dr Jason Azzopardi, lawyer,” as well as “Member of Parliament since 1998.” 

The Magistrate acknowledged that in the first part of the broadcast, the discussion focused on the Nationalist Party where Azzopardi spoke about his role as a member of the Nationalist Party Parliamentary Group, but the Magistrate said it was clear that when the discussion turned to the murder of the journalist, Azzopardi began to speak “as the lawyer of the Caruana Galizia family and as a person close to the family and familiar with the proceedings before the Public Inquiry into this murder. ”

The Magistrate also noted that Azzopardi answered “yes” when asked if he thought Fenech was guilty. He also said that most probably, the motive behind the murder was something that the journalist was going to write in connection with the Electrogas contract in which Yorgen Fenech had a very great interest, while “Keith Schembri did his best to cover up Fenech’s traces.”

These statements were quoted in the Magistrate’s decision to show that “there was little doubt that the respondent was publicly referring to the applicant as guilty of the crime of murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia.” The Court considered these statements in line with Azzopardi’s role as the parte civile’s lawyer, who has a common interest with the Prosecution. Accordingly, the Court said that the lawyers of the parte civile “cannot but have the view and do not express their conviction that the accused is guilty.”

According to the Magistrate, public statements on the conviction of the accused by the lawyers of the parte civile cannot be considered reprehensible or censurable, even if they are made outside the criminal proceedings.

In her order, the Magistrate also gave the definition of “public official,” an issue that was discussed at length during the last hearing.

The Court explained that according to the Constitution, a public official is a person who holds a public office or a person appointed to act in such a position. She said that although the post of Prime Minister, Minister, Parliamentary Secretary, Speaker, Deputy Speaker and member of parliament is not a public post, it is not considered a post in the public service.

As a result, the Court stressed that it did not agree that a member of parliament who is not also a minister or parliamentary secretary can be considered a public authority since he is not appointed by law to hold office in the public administration. The Court considered a public authority to be one with consistent authority in official powers derived from the executive power of the State. Therefore, Jason Azzopardi was not to be considered as a public authority.

The Court, therefore, dismissed the claims made by Yorgen Fenech in his application.