Why is it so ‘vital’ to publish the inquiry immediately?

The one outcome we can’t realistically expect, under the present circumstances, is that the Vitals inquiry simply ‘fizzle out with a whimper, instead of a bang’ (like so many others before it – including Egrant – have been known to do)

OK, so we all know that the Maltese criminal justice system can be utterly incomprehensible to us lesser mortals, even at the best of times.

I myself have spent countless hours in court (either as a witness, or a court reporter) scratching my head in bewilderment, as lawyers and judges argued amongst themselves in what sounded like a mixture of medieval Dog Latin, and 12th Century Siculo-Arabic.

[Quick digression: if any IT whizz-kids out there are reading this… it would be a great help if someone developed a mobile phone app that simultaneously translated legal gobbledygook, into a language we can all understand. That way, we would instantly know that when a judge says ‘DEKORRIBLI’, it means ‘within the prescribed terms that run from the date of notification’… and not, as I had always assumed: ‘THAT GUY IS HORRIBLE!’ End digression.]

But I have to admit I find myself far more flummoxed today, than I ever have been in the past. In fact, there is so much I am currently struggling to comprehend, that I scarce know where to even begin.

Let’s start with the most recent. On Friday, it was reported that: “Joseph Muscat [requested] publication of Vitals inquiry evidence against him.” The article helpfully explained (because like I said, it’s complicated) that: “the court [had] recently granted [Muscat] access to the parts of the magisterial inquiry into the government’s fraudulent deal with Vitals Global Healthcare, where he is mentioned.”

Specifically, Muscat’s lawyers requested that: “access to the documentation in our possession, consisting of acts from the inquiry which were deposited by the Attorney General after the April 9 decree, does not remain restricted to the parties in this case, but also be deposited in the court’s registry in order to form part of the acts of this case, visible and accessible to anyone who wants to see the file.”

Now: nothing particularly hard to understand, there. Joseph Muscat had already declared, in a One TV interview, that: “if the inquiry is published, it will prove that the case against [me] is built on conjecture, lies, twisting of facts, and hearsay.” And if that does indeed turn out to be true… Muscat will almost certainly go on to win the case, as he seems so confident of doing.

So from his own (real or feigned) perspective, at least – and bearing in mind that, unlike you or I, he has actually seen the relevant parts of this inquiry, with his own eyes – Joseph Muscat clearly believes that its publication would only work out to his own advantage, in the long run.

But that brings us to the first of many anomalies. Repubblika (the NGO which had originally requested the inquiry, to begin with) is also requesting the publication of the magistrate’s findings. Not just those parts that are relevant to Joseph Muscat, please note: but the entire report.

Now: I expect you will not need me to inform you that, all things considered, ‘Joseph Muscat’ and ‘Repubblika’ are not exactly looking at this case from the same angle. One is desperately trying to avoid an 18-year prison term; the other is just as desperately trying to secure Muscat’s conviction, and imprisonment. It is honestly hard to imagine two more extreme polar opposites, than that…

Yet there they both are, effectively insisting on the publication of the same magisterial inquiry; and both also very clearly under the same illusion that this will somehow ‘further their own cause, to the detriment of their adversary)’ [Note: Muscat went as far as to predict that his acquittal will prove to be ‘the last nail in the PN’s coffin’…]

Erm… sorry to have to explain the obvious, but: it can’t do both those things at once, you know. Given that this inquiry has already resulted in criminal charges being pressed against 19 individuals – of whom Muscat is but one – its publication can only realistically result in one of two, mutually-exclusive outcomes.

Limiting ourselves only to the case against Muscat: it will either reinforce the view that he is ‘guilty as hell’; or it will reconfirm the suspicion that Muscat has somehow been ‘framed’, by a dedicated consortium of mortal enemies.

The one outcome we can’t realistically expect, under the present circumstances, is that the Vitals inquiry simply ‘fizzle out with a whimper, instead of a bang’ (like so many others before it – including Egrant – have been known to do).

Either way, then, this case will almost certainly end up in a ‘Big Bang’: the total and utter annihilation of one, or the other, of those opposing camps. How, then, can they both be so equally keen on precipitating that end-game, themselves?

But wait, the question only gets more complicated. One of the reasons Muscat gave, when filing his request, was that: “as there are indications that the report is already in the hands of third parties, especially in the hands of those who had themselves instigated this inquiry, there is already the risk that someone could try and be selective in the publication of this report in order to create an imbalance.”

Once again, there is little need for any ‘translation app’, this time round. ‘Those who had themselves instigated this inquiry’ is a fairly unmistakable allusion to Repubblika; and if Muscat is so very convinced that the NGO already has a copy of (all or parts of) the inquiry report in its possession…

... then, um… (see what I mean, when I said this was complicated?)… it should also follow that: ‘Joseph Muscat knows, that Repubblika knows, that the magisterial inquiry will only prove his own innocence, once and for all’. Which brings us back full-circle: if Repubblika really DOES know that… it would surely be fighting tooth-and-nail AGAINST its publication (as it had done against Muscat’s original request for a copy, last month).

On its own part, Repubblika has consistently denied Muscat’s claims: "We don't know what is in the inquiry, but we want to know, and want the Maltese and Gozitan people to know, what is in it, as if it found that crimes were committed then everyone is a victim of those crimes….”

But this only raises other questions of its own. Let us, for argument’s sake, all ‘agree to agree’ with the above statement, for now. Should the results of this magisterial inquiry be made accessible to the general public? Why yes, of course. That is, after all, what it means to be ‘transparent and accountable’ (And besides: why spend E11 million on a document, if we’re not even going to be allowed to read the damn thing, when it’s finished?)

Should, however, those results be made public, precisely NOW? As a matter of such urgency, too? And if so… why?

Reason I ask is that – always assuming that all the regular procedures will be followed, in this case as in all others – the contents of that magisterial inquiry will be ‘made public’ pretty damn soon, you know.

The process will begin in just over a week’s time: on 28 May, when Joseph Muscat will be formally arraigned before a magistrate; and when the charge sheet itself will be read out loud, in a courtroom which will no doubt be packed to the rafters.

This, by the way, will mark the first time we can actually talk about the crimes with which Muscat REALLY stands accused of: without having to rely exclusively on his own version of events (and even then, conveyed only through regular Facebook status updates.)

So, barring any dramatic, last-minute change in script – like, for instance, the magistrate throwing the case of of court; or Muscat himself entering an unexpected ‘guilty’ plea – what follows should be a (probably very lengthy) ‘compilation of evidence stage’, in which every last detail, of every last fragment of evidence presented in court (including where, and how, it was retrieved), will be slowly entered into the public record, for all to marvel at.

It remains to be seen, naturally, whether the Attorney General will actually submit the entire magisterial inquiry report, along with all other relevant documentation… but the precise details of its contents will all surely come out, during the case itself.

Speaking of which: unless I am much mistaken, any case which entails a possible prison sentence of 18 years will also have to be heard before a jury… and once the jury is selected, its members (in theory, at least) will be temporarily ‘shielded’ from all media influence – including access to newspapers, TV, social networks, etc. – for the duration of the trial.

Now: I am certainly not naïve enough to believe that this system actually works in practice; and in any case, it might take years before a jury is actually appointed, to begin with. Either way, however: if standard procedures are followed to the letter, the publication of the report should not really impact the outcome of the case itself, at all… so long as its contents emerge at the right time.

If the document is published (in whole or in part) TODAY, however… it could, in theory, serve to pre-emptively ‘condition’ those possible future jury-members, one way or another, from long before they are even selected.

And while I can easily see, at a glance, why both Joseph Muscat and Repubblika might have keen interests of their own in achieving that kind of result…

…. I mean: do I really need to go on? It’s not exactly what ‘Malta’s criminal justice system’ is supposed to be all about, is it now?