Magistrate abstains in Joseph Muscat libel case, citing friendship with defendant

Joseph Muscat filed the libel case in 2021 after Christian Grima posted a comment of Facebook claiming the former Prime Minister ‘blew up’ journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia

Former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat
Former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat

The magistrate assigned to preside over a libel case filed by former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat over a Facebook comment made by lawyer Christian Grima, has recused herself, explaining that she was friends with the defendant, whom she had also attended university with.

Muscat had filed the libel case last year after Grima posted a comment of Facebook claiming that Muscat “blew up” journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, in Grima’s reaction to a video clip of Muscat's wife talking about Caruana Galizia's murder on Xtra.

Muscat subsequently denied the allegation and described it as “totally false.”

Magistrate Rachel Montebello’s recusal marks yet another strange turn in this case. After initial difficulty in serving Grima with his summons which took weeks to overcome, Grima was, finally, successfully notified, and a date was set in December for the case to start.

But when that day arrived, only Grima turned up for the sitting, with both Muscat and his lawyer failing to show up. Grima’s lawyer had then invoked a legal provision which entitled a defendant in such circumstances to demand that the plaintiff be non-suited, and be ordered to suffer the costs of the case.

After postponing the sitting for some time, the magistrate reconvened the case and upheld Grima’s request.

Muscat subsequently took to Facebook to explain that his lawyer had been indisposed and announce that he would be filing an application for the reappointment of the case.

But when the case was called earlier today, Magistrate Montebello informed the lawyers for the parties that Grima was a friend and former University course mate of hers.

The magistrate ruled that in order that justice not only be done but be seen to be done, it would not be ideal for her to preside over the case, and abstained from presiding over it.

The case will now be assigned to another magistrate by the Registrar of Courts.

Lawyer Carl Grech appeared for Grima.