Court asked to postpone hearings in Joseph Muscat libel case against Daphne Caruana Galizia

Heirs are claiming a breach of their fundamental rights as a result of the ongoing libel proceedings, as they have no way of defending themselves

Former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat
Former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat

A court has been asked to postpone hearings in ongoing libel cases filed by disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat and his wife against Daphne Caruana Galizia indefinitely, in view of a constitutional case filed by her heirs last week.

When the cases, one against the murdered journalist and another against her son, Matthew, continued before Magistrate Victor Axiaq on Monday, the defendants’ lawyer Joe Zammit Maempel informed the court that they had filed constitutional proceedings, the outcome of which would affect this case.

“Last week a constitutional case was filed, in which we are asking the court to, amongst other things, declare the merits of these proceedings exhausted by the death of Daphne Caruana Galizia.”

The heirs are claiming a breach of their fundamental rights as a result of the ongoing libel proceedings, as they have no way of defending themselves. The family of the murdered journalist argue that as they had no access to her sources, which she had never disclosed the identities of, it was impossible for them to defend her story in which she had alleged that secret offshore company Egrant belonged to Michelle Muscat.

The libels had been filed just three days before Caruana Galizia was assassinated by means of a remotely detonated bomb that had been placed under the seat of the car she had been using.

In the constitutional case, Caruana Galizia’s heirs requested the court to declare that the libel case could not continue, in the light of what they described as “the excessive burden of evidence placed on her heirs, and in the light of the principle of protection of sources.”

That case had been assigned to Mr. Justice Toni Abela who had since abstained, he added.

Zammit Maempel asked the magistrate to adjourn this case sine die. “If someone is filing a case after an inquiry established that she has been murdered, how can I defend her? It is an unfair trial,” he said.

The lawyer pointed to the system adopted by the UK, where if either plaintiff or the defendant died before the conclusion of the libel case, the proceedings were declared extinct.

“Under Maltese law this option does not exist, so I needed to file a constitutional case explaining that it is impossible for me to make a defence. She had conducted the investigation, not her heirs,” said the lawyer.

Lawyer Pawlu Lia, representing the Muscats argued that Caruana Galizia the Court of Appeal had rejected this argument in “similar and more extreme cases.”

“I accept that today we need to figure out how to forge ahead, but in the other three cases I must see what evidence there is.”

The fundamental rights that the court needed to protect were “not those of the heirs who accepted the inheritance, but of those individuals trying to protect their rights and receive justice,” he said.

Zammit Maempel argued that he could not see any other option for the Court of Magistrates but to follow the decision of the Constitutional court and put this case on hold until a definitive decision on the constitutional issue.

The case will continue in July.