Yorgen Fenech defence team recruits former Attorney General lawyer

Caruana Galizia family demands internal investigation by Attorney General after lawyer is allowed to leave prosecutor to join Yorgen Fenech defence team

Yorgen Fenech
Yorgen Fenech

The legal team for the man accused of masterminding the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia has recruited a lawyer formerly in the employ of the Attorney General.

Constitutional proceedings were filed by Yorgen Fenech against the Superintendent of Public Health and the State Advocate and will continue later this month, with a sitting held today to thrash out a roadmap for future hearings.

Fenech’s defence team, made up of lawyers Gianluca Caruana Curran, Marion Camilleri and Charles Mercieca, declared they only had one witness – the registrar of the criminal court, who would testify before Mr Justice Lawrence Mintoff in the next sitting.

The presence of Mercieca on the defence team, merely 24 hours after resigning from the office of the Attorney General, raised the ire of some former colleagues.

Sources say the young lawyer, son of the former Labour MP Franco Mercieca, is paying his leave.

The Criminal Code provides that advocates who would have acted on behalf of one party, and then change over in the same lawsuit, can only do so with the consent of the first party, under pain of penalties.

The Caruana Galizia family said that the timing of Mercieca’s transition to criminal defence lawyer pointed to “prior collusion” between Fenech’s defence team and a serving criminal prosecutor.

“The implications for the Office of the Attorney General and for Malta’s already weak criminal justice system are serious. In the interest of preserving the integrity of the prosecution’s case and ensuring justice is served, the family of the victim have written to the Attorney General to immediately launch an internal investigation and to treat this matter with the urgency it deserves.

“As Dr Mercieca’s actions are in flagrant breach of the Code of Ethics & Conduct for Advocates, the letter was copied to the Commission for the Administration of Justice, which is responsible for discipline over advocates.”

Lawyers for Fenech, who in separate proceedings, is charged with masterminding the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, are arguing that the closure of the courts had caused a breach of his human rights. The courts were closed at the behest of the Superintendent of Public Health on March 16, by virtue of legal notice 65 of 2020. This legal notice applies to all courts and tribunals based in the Valletta court building and their respective registries.

A judge has already dismissed an application by Yorgen Fenech to have his detention declared unlawful in the light of legal notices declaring the indefinite suspension of court hearings.

Madam Justice Edwina Grima heard the Attorney General argue that the legal notice as published did not render the arrest illegal, with the defence counter-arguing that it was the way the law was applied that was wrong, not the law itself.

In lengthy submissions, lawyer Gianluca Caruana Curran told the judge that he felt the arrest of his client was now illegal as Fenech had no date where he could expect the arrest to end.

Nationalist Party reaction

Justice minister Edward Zammit Lewis has the legal and moral obligation of giving an explanation on the situation, the Nationalist Party said.

“The justice minister should lay out clearly when the lawyer was first contacted by his client, and how this was allowed to happen,” the PN said.

Zammit Lewis also has the responsibility of declaring what measures were taken in order to ensure that any proof, documents and evidence of the case do not result in irreparable damage of the case, it said.

“The opposition awaits a clear declaration on what steps the justice minister will be taking,” the statement read.

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