Trial judge throws out Yorgen Fenech recusal request

Judge Edwina Grima has rejected Yorgen Fenech’s request to abstain and make way for another judge to preside over his trial 

Yorgen Fenech
Yorgen Fenech

Judge Edwina Grima has rejected Yorgen Fenech’s request to abstain and make way for another judge to preside over his trial.

Fenech is due to stand trial over complicity in the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2017. He is facing life imprisonment.

After the abstention of the judge originally allocated to the trial, Mr Justice Aaron Bugeja, the President of the Republic – on the recommendation of the Chief Justice – had nominated Madame Justice Edwina Grima to preside Fenech’s trial by jury. 

In a court filing last week, Fenech’s lawyers had asked that the judge abstains from presiding the trial by jury in view of the fact that she might also have to co-preside an eventual appeal.

In his reply, Deputy Attorney General Philip Galea Farrugia described the request as “manifestly frivolous” and a clear attempt at forum shopping. “Ironically, it is nobody but the accused who are attempting to choose the judge who will preside his jury by, on the basis of lies and conjectures, attempting to exclude a very competent judge appointed according to law.” 

He strongly denied the allegation made by Fenech’s legal team that the AG “participated in the choice of the judge, saying this was “entirely misleading.” It was only the Chief Justice who made the recommendation and the AG was only involved after that for legal vetting of the substitution document and to pass on the Chief Justice’s recommendation to the Justice Minister.

Galea Farrugia also pointed out that Fenech’s lawyers had requested the “abstention” and not the “recusal” of the judge, which was legally incorrect, as only the judge herself can choose to abstain.

This argument was upheld in a decree handed down this morning by the judge, who said that the defence was “legally mistaken” in requesting the abstention of the judge, which she said is a prerogative of the judge and not the parties.

Having seen the assignment of duties orders presented by the Registrar of Courts on the order of the court, which showed that Grima was one of the judges assigned to preside the Criminal Court since 2015, the judge said there were no obstacles to her presiding the trial.
The judge dismissed the request as “legally unsustainable.”

READ MORE: Yorgen Fenech wants judge recused