Hospitals inquiry concluded, 78 boxes of evidence passed on to Attorney General

Hospitals magisterial inquiry passed on to Attorney General on day election nominations opened. Joseph Muscat claims inequality of arms

The magisterial inquiry into the sale of three public hospitals to Vitals Global Healthcare is complete and has been delivered to the Attorney General.

This emerged in court on Tuesday from the testimony of the Registrar of the Criminal Courts Franklin Calleja.

“The inquiry was concluded and closed last Thursday; it went to the AG on 25 April,” Calleja told Mr Justice Giovanni Grixti.

The day coincided with the day when the nominations for European and local elections opened. Nominations closed on Monday at 7pm.

Calleja was testifying in the case instituted by former prime minister Joseph Muscat to remove the inquiring magistrate.

Asked by Muscat’s lawyer Vince Galea to explain the mechanics of the process, the registrar said the procès-verbal, after being exhibited in the registry, is sent together with all exhibits to the AG. Calleja said 78 boxes of evidence had been sent together with the inquiry.

So far, no information about the outcome of the inquiry has emerged, but the hostile stance adopted by Prime Minister Robert Abela last Sunday suggests an unfavourable outcome for his party.

Abela accused the judiciary of “political terrorism”, a statement repeated by Muscat to reporters as he entered the law courts on Tuesday morning.

READ ALSO: Abela doubles down on ‘political terrorism’ remarks - Magistrate purposely chose start of election campaign to conclude inquiry

In court on Tuesday, Galea asked Mr. Justice Grixti to order the exhibition of the inquiry file in these proceedings, asking the judge to bear in mind “that the AG was also a party in this case.” The law gives the AG discretion to refuse him access to the inquiry, he added. “She hasn’t said that so far,” the judge shot back.

Muscat had not received the initial report of a crime and had not been indicated in it, Galea said . This, together with the fact that the Magistrate had refused to Muscat's request that she recuse herself, all imbued Muscat with juridical interest in the inquiry, argued Galea, telling the court that unless the request was upheld, there would be a likelihood of a breach of fundamental rights.

The Constitution and ECHR both empowered the court to take action when a breach of fundamental rights is likely, he said. “So we cannot just wait for the court to decide and then order him to be returned to the position he was before the breach of rights took place.”

The lawyer also claimed inequality of arms. “I am currently in a position where I will have to make suppositions before the court while another party to the case, the AG, has a document in her possession which allows her to counter us without showing her hand…How can I prove details in the inquiry record without having seen it, but the other side has?”

Lawyer James D’Agostino, representing the State Advocate, replied that the law establishes a procedure in the law which gives the AG discretion to decide whether or not to grant a party’s request for access to the inquiry. It also set up a procedure for redress if the party felt aggrieved by that decision. Although the court had wide ranging powers, it still had to stay within the parameters established by the law, he said. 

But Muscat’s lawyer asked that the disgraced former Prime Minister be returned to the position he had been in before the inquiry’s conclusion - which would necessitate the replacement of the inquiring magistrate and the inquiry starting afresh.

“If the court is convinced that there was a breach of rights, it must put the complainant in the position he had been in before the breach took place. You have to change the inquiring magistrate. You might say ‘what’s done is done,’ but…the court can take you back to any stage of the proceedings.”

He repeated that Muscat had not been mentioned in the initial report about the crime, but the Judge deftly replied that Muscat had simply become a person of interest in the inquiry at a late stage. 

“The AG has powers and duties established by law, which is equal for all,” submitted the State Advocate, accusing Muscat’s lawyers of trying to “pull the rug” from beneath the court..“We cannot deviate from the law. From his arguments I understand that the applicant is expecting us to ignore the law, and is also questioning the authority of the court in Strasbourg.”

“If we were to act differently to the norms established by the European Court of Human Rights, then some local lawyer will pipe up and say we are breaching his fundamental rights. So it is wise that our courts follow legal doctrines established by Strasbourg.” 

The conditions specified in the interim measure were clear and specific, D’Agostino said. “We cannot go beyond them, or we are risking affecting the case on the merits.”

The court, having heard the lengthy technical submissions on the requests for both requests, adjourned the proceedings to May 9, when it will issue its decree on the requests.