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Updated | Journalists ordered out of sitting in appeal against decision to conduct inquiry into Mizzi, Schembri

The case was put off until 11 September– not for a decision on the application, which had been filed with urgency, but for the other parties' replies. 

matthew_agius
Matthew Agius
16 August 2017, 10:28am
Last updated on 16 August 2017, 12:23pm
Lawyer Jason Azzopardi is expected to formally request the recusal of judge Antonio Mizzi from hearing the seven appeals filed against Magistrate Ian Farrugia’s decision to launch an inquiry
Lawyer Jason Azzopardi is expected to formally request the recusal of judge Antonio Mizzi from hearing the seven appeals filed against Magistrate Ian Farrugia’s decision to launch an inquiry
The Court of Criminal Appeal is hearing submissions in seven appeals filed against a magistrate's approval of a request to launch an inquiry into money-laundering allegations involving and high ranking government officials.

In today's sitting, lawyer Jason Azzopardi is expected to formally request the recusal of judge Antonio Mizzi from hearing the seven appeals filed against Magistrate Ian Farrugia’s decision to launch an inquiry into money laundering allegations involving against OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri and Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi, that were made by Opposition leader Simon Busuttil.

PN leader Simon Busuttil, who filed the original request for investigation, and several PN MPs gathered in the public gallery.

But before the sitting started this morning, Judge Antonio Mizzi ordered the press and public out of the courtroom, announcing that today's sitting was happening “in camera”. Only Busuttil was allowed to remain in the hall.

Lawyers Edward Gatt and Mark Vassallo, Pawlu Lia, Stephen Tonna Lowell, Ian Refalo, James D' Agostino and Aaron Mifsud Bonnici each filed one of the seven appeals against Magistrate Farrugia’s decision, which gave the go-ahead for a magisterial inquiry to be held, arguing that the prerequisites for a magisterial inquiry (known as the in genere) do not exist.

The Court, however must first tackle Busuttil's request for the recusal of the presiding judge. Busuttil is arguing that judge Antonio Mizzi is unable to fulfill his duties impartially because his wife – Marlene Mizzi – is a Labour MEP.

The sitting was over nearly 90 minutes later. Outside the courtroom, outgoing PN leader Simon Busuttil explained to reporters that the PN's lawyer had asked for the judge's recusal in terms of the Code of Organisation and Civil Procedure and had given detailed arguments as to why Mr Justice Mizzi should not hear the appeal. These were based on Maltese law and decisions by both Maltese and EU courts, he said.

“Whilst nobody is attacking the integrity of the judge, the simple fact that his wife is a Labour MEP casts a shadow over the case and prevents justice from being seen to be done.

“In the eyes of the public, can a judge married to an MEP be seen to give an impartial decision [on this particular issue]?”

Article 734 (1)(e) of the Code Of Organisation and Civil Procedure allows for the challenging of a judge “if he, or his spouse, is directly or indirectly interested in the event of the suit.”

Busuttil's lawyer pointed to a number of declarations made by Marlene Mizzi, some regarding the issue of a government minister and chief of staff being ousted in the Panama Papers as owning corporate setups that could be used for money laundering.

In April 2015, the same judge had been asked to abstain for the same reason in an appeal involving Daphne Caruana Galizia and had accepted to step aside, saying the court was of the opinion on that “in order for justice to be seen to be done, it would be better for the court as presided not to hear the case,” Azzopardi said.

The lawyer also reminded how the Constitutional court judge Joseph R. Micallef had been ordered to recuse himself from hearing the clerical sex abuse case filed by Lawrence Grech because of his ties to Radio Marija, despite this not being required by law.

“The Constituional Court had been clear that it was in the interest of both parties for the judge to recuse himself, to avoid even unconscious partiality.”

Simon Busuttil said the other party's “sole interest is in dragging the case out for as long as possible.”

This alleged aim would appear to have been achieved, with the court scheduling the next hearing for 11 September– not for a decision on the application that had been filed with urgency, but for the other parties' replies. All seven appellants must be present at this sitting.

“We are simply asking for an investigation to begin. If someone doesn't have anything to hide would he bring it up to the Court of Appeal?” Busuttil asked.

“Whilst Judge Mizzi's wife has every right to criticise the leader of the opposition, she also happens to be a member of the party whose leadership are being investigated. There is a duty of loyalty to the party,” Busuttil said, adding that in June, she had intervened before the European Parliament, bashing the opposition for the Panama debate and calling its actions 'bullying'.

The MEP had also taken Busuttil to task on Facebook, questioning the decision to base the PN campaign on an anti-corruption drive, he said.

matthew_agius
Court reporter Matthew Agius is a Legal Procurator and Commissioner for Oaths. Prior to re...