Why did Magistrate Vella not collect the laptop?

The media can never act as an alternative to the judicial system in a functioning democracy. And that is why any decision not to take in the laptop and investigate its contents should be revisited at once

There is this very particular scene: I arrive at a government ministry and apart from being greeted by three receptionists at a desk and a pensioner cum security personnel, there’s also another ministry employee who stands impatiently by the lift and then offers to press a button inside the lift for the first floor. I should have walked up the stairs and avoided the whole charade – any physical exercise at my age would surely improve my cardio.

The truth is that whenever you look at government there is this sensation of a bulging and very exaggerated labour force. And if one had to look at the number of those in government employment, it is clear that the numbers have gone up, not down.

In a situation where the economy is hitting the roof, no one really cares if more than 46,000 individuals work with government or that many of them are useless and not needed at their place of work. It is bad enough that thousands depend on government for an income while many more rely on the government to pay for their services.

READ MORE: Magistrate can’t say whether he asked Daphne Caruana Galizia’s family for her laptop

The ugly reality is that fewer people need to work with government and were it not for political patronage during election time, the numbers would take a dramatic nose-dive.

That would not only change statistics but it would also alleviate the gargantuan problem that presently exists with Maltese companies, many of which are unable to find Maltese workers to fill up their vacancies.

The government simply argues that this is how the free market works and ignores the fact that government employment – which may be completely unnecessary apart from the electoral considerations – is exacerbating the dearth of skilled labour on the Maltese Islands in an already tricky situation where a large number of potential recruits are migrating to the more lucrative and better paid jobs in the financial and iGaming sector.

If we were to take a bump in this economic miracle, many small and medium sized businesses may well breathe a sigh of relief.

Differently from what many people think, owners, directors and managers will probably be in a better position to offer efficient services as they stop waking up on Monday morning to face employees with resignation letters or demands for higher salaries.

**

This week, we heard that the Daphne Caruana Galizia laptop in the magistrate’s possession was the one she had used only until 2015.

Now we know that the magistrate may have yet followed through with a request to ask the family to hand over the laptop. 

It appears the police followed protocol and made a judicial request to Magistrate Vella. The magistrate confirms this but does not say what happened next.

What stands out very clearly is that no effort was made to take hold of the laptop from the Caruana Galizia family and it could very well be the case that the laptop is still in the family’s possession.

The idea that the judicial process has to follow the perpetual ‘them’ and ‘us’ mentality of the Caruana Galizia family is preposterous. After all, the magistrate carrying out the inquest had the full backing of the family, and Malta being what it is, we all know that Magistrate Vella is not exactly a new face to the family and their lawyers.

But let us get back to basics. 

Malta, according to the BBC and the Guardian, is a country from the Wild West with no rule of law. Of course, the narrative that Caruana Galizia was a most intrepid journalist, killed because of her political investigations is not something that I or anyone else can erase, but the majority of Maltese know exactly what I am talking about when I say that our view of Caruana Galizia is much more nuanced than that.

That justice must be served is an essential component of the rule of law, but we can all agree that it is not being served if we do not follow the normal investigative and judicial procedures.

Strange that this particular ‘missing link’ in the investigations did not lead to some protest or call for justice…

When, what and who Caruana Galizia met or with whom or from where she received messages or information is crucial to understand the motive behind her killing.

Caruana Galizia was a very particular journalist: she was part PR and publicist, and sometimes she was an investigative journalist, but also a magnet of information that, left unproven, was slanderous and aimed at harming any intended political target. In her professional life she met and offered services to many people in business who treasured her writing skills and her PR competency. That laptop would be crucial to illustrate the last six months of her life or perhaps even more.

The excuse that this information could get into the hands of those seen as political foes does not hold water because the laptop was to be handled solely by Magistrate Vella who surely is not a man who can be trifled with or politically browbeaten.

Foreign journalists will copy and paste the seductive narrative in this saga. A few local pundits will speculate and postulate why she was killed but the truth can only be proven with hard facts. That a magistrate – any serious magistrate – fails to put his or her foot down and oblige the family to return the laptop is beyond me. It also shows to what extent this broad feeling of fear of being taken to the cleaners by the family and their faithful entourage has led in relation to the course of justice being badly served.

Six months down the line, we have three individuals behind bars. Some will argue they were serving Maltese criminals in a loose network who might have had a common interest in ending Caruana Galizia’s life. Others point towards a more sinister plot backed by a politically motivated cell, a hypothesis which is also followed by many news agencies which cannot live without a good story and know their readers enjoy a good plot. Perhaps those who follow the BBC coverage of the Cliff Richard allegations will understand what I am saying with BBC having some serious egg on their face.

Solving a crime is not something that you do for a family only or for those close to a family. 

In my view the decision not to collect this laptop is a clear sign of obstruction of justice. 

All those claims and counter claims relating to the sources of Caruana Galizia and how they should be held sacred are irrelevant. When it comes to murder, the sources must not be publicised but to the magistrate they will show a trail or illustrate the motive.

From her far from respectful writings about key people in crime, one could easily list a number of motives. But beyond an interpretation of her writings full of slander and abuse towards her targets in her writings, the end result will only remain speculative.

The key to a proper investigation is to dig deeper into the life of Caruana Galizia by joining the dots. And this is not going to get done with eulogies. The media can never act as an alternative to the judicial system in a functioning democracy. And that is why any decision not to take in the laptop and investigate its contents should be revisited at once.

At least for the sake of judicial correctness and to avoid the usual rumourmongering.

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