Inquiry to go on; Retired judges ready to renounce payment

Photo by: Miguela Xuereb

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

The public inquiry into the murder of assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia will continue, the board declared on Monday at the end of the sitting which saw disgraced former OPM Chief of Staff Keith Schembri take the witness stand.

Last week, Prime Minister Robert Abela told reporters that the inquiry had enough time to fulfill its work.

The inquiry was given a three-month extension in September because of delays caused by coronavirus. The extension would expire on Tuesday 15 December.

Reading out their decree on Monday, which is to be communicated to the prime minister, the board of inquiry said that it would continue with its work.

The board said that there was no room for time limits which were not indicated in its terms of reference.

“The search for truth can never be subjected to arbitrary and unilateral terms that could condition those called to judge, especially when the terms of reference of the board of inquiry were agreed upon with the family of slain journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia,” the decree reads.

In less than a year including a ten-week suspension due to the outbreak of coronavirus, the board of inquiry held 85 sittings and heard around 100 witnesses.

The board said that it should be allowed to continue its work serenely in order to come to an objective judgement based on the evidence gathered without any pressure.

Only the board itself can determine its time limits. All attempts to impose such limits are unacceptable, it said.

The board noted that some Europol data which could be useful to the inquiry will be made available by mid-January. It added that it will suspend hearings until then.

Retired judge Michael Mallia and Chief Justice Emeritus Joseph Said Pullicino who are receiving honoraria for their work, said that they are willing to renounce payment for their work.

The public inquiry which was set up late last year following pressure from European bodies and civil society, is tasked with determining whether the state did all it could to prevent Caruana Galizia’s murder.

The inquiry came after the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe had adopted a resolution 18 months ago which consisted of a series of recommendations to the Maltese authorities on achieving justice for Caruana Galizia and ending impunity for high-level corruption.

In a recent report, drawn by PACE’s rapporteur on Malta, the Council of Europe concluded that Malta’s implementation of its recommendations were deemed “unsatisfactory”.

The Council’s legal affairs committees also called on the government to “refrain from any attempt to impose an arbitrary time-limit” on the work of the independent public inquiry currently under way.

The board is chaired by Judge Michael Mallia and has Chief Justice Emeritus Joseph Said Pullicino and Madam Justice Abigail Lofaro as its members.

Once all sittings are held, the board will draw up a report and present it to the prime minister and the attorney general.

The next sitting will be held on 29 January 2021 at 9.30am.