Court refuses Joseph Muscat's unauthorised exhibition of VGH inquiry application

Joseph Muscat is claiming his right to a fair hearing was breached in relation to the ongoing magisterial inquiry into the allegations of corruption concerning the hospitals deal

Former prime minister Joseph Muscat
Former prime minister Joseph Muscat

Joseph Muscat’s bid to exhibit a copy of the court application filed by Repubblika, kick-starting the criminal inquiry into the Vitals hospital deal, without the authorisation of the inquiring magistrate has been rejected by a judge.

This emerged as Muscat’s case, in which he is calling on the court to declare that the provision of the law under which the inquiry had been opened, breached Muscat’s right to a fair hearing, continued before Madam Justice Doreen Clarke this morning.

The court is being asked to declare that the provision of the law used to base the inquiry request on, breached Muscat’s right to a fair hearing by creating a distinction between those individuals identified as suspects in the initial stages of the inquiry and others who became suspects later, during the course of the inquiry.

He is also seeking a ruling to the effect that the section of the law regulating the recusal of magistrates breached his rights, because recusal requests are decided by the same member of the judiciary whose recusal is sought and not determined by an independent and impartial tribunal.

Last month, the Court had also turned down Muscat’s request for an urgent interim measure that would have immediately taken the magisterial inquiry into possible corruption in the sale of public hospitals to Vitals Global Healthcare out of Magistrate Gabriella Vella’s hands.

A note had been filed yesterday by Muscat, lawyer Isaac Zammit, representing the Office of the State Advocate together with lawyer James D’Agostino, told the court this morning.

Attached to that note were two documents, including a copy of Repubblika’s 2019 application, requesting the commencement of the inquiry in genre into the VGH deal. Last month the Registrar of the Criminal Courts had taken the witness stand and exhibited a decree, which had been handed down on 19 July, in which the inquiring magistrate had authorised the exhibition of some of the documents requested, but not all.

Zammit drew attention to the fact that the exhibition of the first document singled out in Muscat’s note had already been requested and refused by the inquiring magistrate, Gabriella Vella. He asked that the document be expunged from the acts of these proceedings.

Muscat's lawyer Charlon Gouder opposed the expungement request and asked the State Advocate to indicate where the request for its exhibition had been refused in the decree in question.

D'Agostino indicated a page number for the relevant document in the case file. "There is a 'no' written next to it," he explained. "What the decree allows is limited to the documents listed in it, to the exclusion of everything else," argued the lawyer.

The judge agreed with the State Advocate’s submissions and also upheld the State Advocate’s request for the expunging of the document.

The court announced that due to a misunderstanding, it had only received the requests to issue summons for today’s sittings last Thursday. They had been sent out the next day, but the witnesses requested, namely Robert Aquilina, the Commissioner of Police and Alessandra Dee Crespo had not yet been served with the summons.

Gouder told the court that he intended to examine the Police Commissioner after Robert Aquilina testified because he would be basing his questions to the police chief on the latter's testimony.

D'Agostino told the court that he was concerned about the wide scope of the Commissioner's testimony, as laid out in the summons and questioned its relevance. "We fear he will be asked about any documents which deal with Joseph Muscat. The aim appears to be to obtain disclosure, which is not the point of these proceedings."

Gouder denied this was the intention.

The judge said that she would deal with the questions on an individual basis, and would tackle any issues which might arise, as required.

The sitting was adjourned to 26 September.