Judge again postpones decree on request to remove Daphne murder lead investigator

Judge sharply criticises the Commissioner of Police for his refusal to comply with a court order

Inspector Keith Arnaud and lawyer Charles Mercieca
Inspector Keith Arnaud and lawyer Charles Mercieca

A judge has had to postpone, for the third time, handing down judgment in a constitutional case filed by the man accused of commissioning the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, sharply criticising the Commissioner of Police for his refusal to comply with a court order.

Mr Justice Lawrence Mintoff made the ruling earlier today, the judge’s displeasure with the situation clear in his decree.

Yorgen Fenech’s lawyers had filed the request for the postponement in the handing down of judgment in early August, telling the court that the police had recently come into possession of a full extraction of the data on Keith Schembri’s phone and that this data appeared to contain information which was essential to Fenech’s defence.

The Constitutional case, in which Fenech was requesting the removal of the lead homicide investigator, before Mr. Justice Lawrence Mintoff had seemingly run its course and was due for judgement in November, but was upended by this request.

Mr. Justice Mintoff observed that it was to some extent inevitable that such delays would happen in the light of the several different and relevant cases which were being heard simultaneously. The judge said he had felt duty bound to permit the production of this evidence for the better administration of justice and to avoid an incorrect decision.

But in his reply to the application, the Commissioner of Police had argued that the request was not made correctly and that it was vexatious and intended to prolong proceedings. Moreover, Fenech should be summoned to explain and prove where this extraction was, he said.

The court underlined that in its September 1 decree, it had not ordered the suspension of handing down of judgment until a police representative testified, but had reserved the right to rule on this issue at a later stage after receiving confirmation that the data was useful to these proceedings. For this reason, it had ordered the Commissioner of Police to declare what extractions from Schembri’s phone the police were in possession of and when it had come into their possession. The Commissioner of Police had refused and presented an application requesting the court revoke its decree instead.

The judge was incensed by the Commissioner’s refusal.

“In Constitutional proceedings such as these, where it is being questioned as to whether the police’s investigations into the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia were independent and impartial, in circumstances where the mobile phone that Keith Schembri had been using at the time of Yorgen Fenech’s arrest was allegedly lost and could not be found by the police, in circumstances where the police failed to seize computers which Schembri had at his Castille office, which office was not even sealed by the police, and in a situation where both the Deputy Commissioner Silvio Valletta and the Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar had to resign due to conflicts of interests which they may have had in the investigation into the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, the least thing that the defendant Commissioner of Police could do was to bring himself in line with the orders of this Court…” said the judge in his decree.

The judge said he was of the opinion that it should have been the Commissioner of Police himself to hand over all relevant evidence to this case. If there were procedural obstacles it was up to the Commissioner to ensure that these obstacles are overcome by seeking authorisation from the inquiring magistrate. “Otherwise this court, before passing judgment, will have no other option but to wait for the completion of the extraction of data from Schembri’s mobile phone and the closing of the inquiry.”

He added that for these reasons, the court would be suspending the handing down of judgment until this happened.

In view of this development, the judge brought the case forward, fixing a sitting later this month to establish the next steps in the case.