Justyne Caruana asks for Speaker to be admitted in constitutional case

Lawyers for former Education Minister Justyne Caruana have filed an application in her constitutional proceedings asking that the Speaker be admitted as a party to the lawsuit

Former Education Minister Justyne Caruana
Former Education Minister Justyne Caruana

Lawyers for former Education Minister Justyne Caruana yesterday filed an application in her constitutional proceedings against the State Advocate and a judicial protest against the Speaker of the House, asking that the Speaker be admitted as a party to the lawsuit.

Caruana, who resigned in December after being found to have breached ethics by gifting her partner a €15,000 contract, had previously filed a constitutional case three days before Christmas claiming the Standards Commissioner did not give her a fair hearing before finding her guilty of the breach. The case was filed shortly after her resignation.

The former minister’s legal team have now filed a judicial protest before the civil courts calling upon the committee represented by the Speaker to ensure that Caruana’s rights to a fair hearing and due process are respected and that any upcoming debates on the Standards Commissioner’s report do not prejudice her constitutional challenge in court.

Her lawyers argued that the committee had a “direct and real” interest in the constitutional action filed by Caruana, in a separate court filing in which they are calling for the Speaker to be joined in the suit. 

This would give the committee the ability to be heard as proceedings progressed and would enable it to implement any remedies granted by the court, should Caruana’s action be successful.

Caruana’s constitutional lawsuit, which was filed in December and which is yet to be given a date for its first hearing, challenges the validity of the law granting the Standards Commissioner “unfettered discretion” throughout the ethics investigation. This breached Caruana’s right to a fair hearing, according to her lawyers.

The investigation which found Caruana to have committed a breach of ministerial ethics was documented in a report published on December 10. It found that a consultancy contract granted to former international team footballer Daniel Bogdanovic had been given solely on the basis of his friendship with Caruana. Bogdanovic was unqualified for the job, the report said.

This prompted legal action by Caruana, who claimed that the Standards in Public Life Act violated her fundamental rights in terms of the Constitution and the European Convention.

Despite the lawsuit, the Standards Committee seems to be adopting the procedure laid down by that same law which is being challenged in court. This meant that it could take decisions that would potentially have to be challenged in court.

As a result, Caruana’s lawyers have filed further legal action, calling upon the Speaker as chairman and representative of the Standards in Public Life committee to ensure that Caruana’s rights are protected and that the court case is not prejudiced in any way. 

In their separate application to the First Hall of the Civil Court, Caruana’s lawyers are also requesting the court to approve the Speaker’s joinder in the suit.

Caruana’s lawyers, Michael Sciriha, Franco Galea and Joseph Camilleri, are arguing that nothing in the law excludes the chairman of the committee being joined in such constitutional proceedings as a respondent.