Chief Justice cites prudence as he recuses himself from Yorgen Fenech appeal

Chief Justice Mark Chetcuti has withdrawn from Yorgen Fenech’s appeal case due to his involvement in the selection of the trial judge

Chief Justice Mark Chetcuti (centre)
Chief Justice Mark Chetcuti (centre)

Chief Justice Mark Chetcuti has recused himself from Yorgen Fenech’s appeal case over the rejection of Fenech’s request for the recusal of the judge who will preside over his trial by jury, citing his role in the selection of the trial judge.

Fenech, who is indicted for complicity in the 2017 assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, had filed the case in September 2021, claiming that the appointment of Madam Justice Edwina Grima to preside over his trial was a breach of his fundamental right to a fair hearing.

Madam Justice Grima had previously rejected Fenech’s lawyers request that she abstain from presiding over his eventual trial. Fenech’s lawyers argued that the fact that the President of the Republic, the Chief Justice and the Attorney General had carried out the legal vetting before recommending a candidate to preside over Fenech’s trial, breached his fair trial rights.

“This means that… the choice of Madame Justice Edwina Grima is a joint one between the Attorney General and the parte civile and this goes against every sense of fair hearing and natural justice,” the lawyers had argued.

The day after Madame Justice Grima had rejected his request, Fenech had filed a case in which he requested the constitutional courts order Madam Justice Grima to abstain from presiding over his trial.

In a decision handed down this morning, Mr. Justice Chetcuti observed that the lawyers had subsequently explained that Fenech’s objection dealt with the objective aspect of the judge’s independence and impartiality.

“It is evident that the Chief Justice was involved in the choice of Madam justice Grima to preside over the Criminal Court in the case Republic of Malta vs Yorgen Fenech. A process, which as we have seen, is being attacked in a constitutional case filed by the plaintiff and which is now before this court. In these circumstances, this court is of the opinion that it would be prudent for the Chief Justice not to continue to preside over the appeal from the decision by the first court given on 30 November 2022. Obviously this decision must not be taken to imply in some way as impinging on the merits of the appeal itself.”