[WATCH] Daphne Caruana Galizia murder: Magistrate withdraws from case

A new magistrate will have to be appointed to preside over the compilation of evidence against three men accused of assassinating journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia • The accused asked for Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech's withdrawal after she made it known that she had been in the same school as Caruana Galizia's sister 34 years ago

Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech has withdrawn from the case at the request of the accused
Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech has withdrawn from the case at the request of the accused
Photos: James Bianchi/Mediatoday
Photos: James Bianchi/Mediatoday
Photos: James Bianchi/Mediatoday
Photos: James Bianchi/Mediatoday
Photos: James Bianchi/Mediatoday
Photos: James Bianchi/Mediatoday
Photos: James Bianchi/Mediatoday
Photos: James Bianchi/Mediatoday
Photos: James Bianchi/Mediatoday
Photos: James Bianchi/Mediatoday
Photos: James Bianchi/Mediatoday
Photos: James Bianchi/Mediatoday
Photos: James Bianchi/Mediatoday
Photos: James Bianchi/Mediatoday
Photos: James Bianchi/Mediatoday
Photos: James Bianchi/Mediatoday
The moment when the three men accused of murdering Daphne Caruana Galizia were escorted out of the law courts to be taken back to prison after the case against them will have to be re-assigned to a new magistrate

Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech has decided to withdraw from the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder case after doubts about her impartiality were raised by the accused, who appeared in front of her this morning.

The magistrate decided to recuse herself after lawyers for George Degiorgio, Alfred Degiorgio and Vince Muscat said her familiarity with the victim's sister could create doubts on decisions she may make during the case.

Frendo Dimech was going to preside over the compilation of evidence, which is a pre-trial stage when the police present the evidence they have against the accused. The magistrate would then decide whether their is enough evidence for the men to stand trial.

Accused face their first sitting in compilation of evidence against them for murder of journalist

The men were taken to court this morning from the Corradino Correctional Facility under heavy police escort.

However, at the start of the sitting, Frendo Dimech said she had been in school with one of Caruana Galizia's sisters until 1983 and every year they exchanged birthday greetings. The magistrate said she had also expressed her condolences to the woman after the murder.

Lawyers for the accused insisted their clients feared the magistrate may not be impartial during the course of the case as a result of her familiarity with Caruana Galizia's sister.

Daphne Caruana Galizia's widower Peter, was in court along with her sisters and parents
Daphne Caruana Galizia's widower Peter, was in court along with her sisters and parents

After retiring to her chambers for two hours, Frendo Dimech decided to recuse herself, even though the objection being raised was not one sanctioned at law. However, she added that justice had to be seen to be done and given that doubts had been raised over her impartiality, she opted to withdraw from the case.

A new magistrate will now have to be appointed to hear the compilation of evidence.

Daphne Caruana Galizia murder and aftermath - a timeline

The Degiorgio brothers and Muscat are charged with assassinating the journalist with a car bomb on 16 October. They were arrested during a massive police and army raid on their quarters in the Menqa area of Marsa earlier this month.

Seven other men arrested during the raid have since been released on police bail.

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Caruana Galizia was blown up by a bomb placed inside her car. She had just left her family home in Bidnija when the bomb was detonated by an SMS, allegedly sent by George Degiorgio from his cabin cruiser.

The murder also led to various protests by the Civil Society Network and other groups that called for justice to be done as they cast a spotlight on the adequacy of the rule of law in Malta. The situation also caught the eye of the European Parliament that sent a fact-finding mission to the island.

Who are the accused

  • George Degiorgio 55, unemployed, lives in St Paul's Bay, known as Ic-Ciniz
  • Alfred Degiorgio, 53, unemployed lives in St Paul's Bay, known as il-Fulu
  • Vincent Muscat, 55, unemployed lives in Msida, known as il-Kohhu

12:56 That's all for today and thank you for following us. A report on the day's proceedings will be uploaded shortly. Yannick Pace
12:37 A new magistrate will now be appointed. Yannick Pace
12:36 "Even appearances might be of certain importance. justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done...... thus any judge in respect of whom there is reason to fear some impartiality, must withdraw" Yannick Pace
12:36 Quoting Lawrence Grech et vs AG, 2017, Frendo Dimceh said that “if there is something which created doubt, if it appeared to be that there might be some doubt about the impartiality of the judiciary on the accused’s side, then the judiciary might, to eliminate all doubt of impartiality, even be biased in favour of the accused”. Yannick Pace
12:30 She said that after consulting with their lawyers, the accused asked for a recusal however there was also agreement that there was no basis for the recusal under the code of organisation and civil procedure. She noted however that the circumstances were creating doubts in the minds of the accused. “The constitutional court on 12 July 2005 said: it is now a principle in case law, that even if there is no reason for a recusal under the COCP, a situation can be created which goes against one’s individual rights,” said Frendo Dimech. Paul Cocks
12:26 Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech has returned, explaining that she has arrived at a decision after consulting pervious sentences Paul Cocks
12:24 The prosecution has just entered the courtroom which is again full and awaiting the magistrate’s return. Paul Cocks
12:10 How we got here: Journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered in a car bomb on 16 October soon after leaving the family home in Bidnija. Police investigations bolstered by contributions from the American FBI, the Dutch and Finnish police and Europol led to the arrest of 10 men on 4 December. Seven of the men were released on police bail while the Degiorgio brothers and Vince Muscat were charged in court with the journalist's murder Kurt Sansone
12:03 The accused, George Degiorgio, Alfred Degiorgio and Vince Muscat, were brought to court this morning directly from prison under heavy police escort Kurt Sansone
11:59 Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech is expected to rule shortly whether she should continue to hear the case Kurt Sansone
11:58 MaltaToday's Massimo Costa is back with live commentary from the courtroom where the compilation of evidence against three men accused of murdering Daphne Caruana Galizia is taking place Kurt Sansone
10:16 What has happened so far: Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech is hearing the compilation of evidence against three men accused of murdering Daphne Caruana Galizia. At the start of the sitting, Frendo Dimech said she had gone to school with one of Caruana Galizia's sisters until 1983. This prompted the defence lawyers to ask for her withdrawal from the case. The prosecution is insisting the familiarity is not enough to warrant recusal, an argument made also by the lawyers representing the Caruana Galizia family. The magistrate has withdrawn to her chambers to consider the objection raised by the accused Kurt Sansone
10:12 Court will reconvene at noon Kurt Sansone
10:12 Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech withdraws to her chambers to consider the matter Kurt Sansone
10:12 Defence lawyer Benjamin Valencia reiterates that having consulted their clients, the defence was asking for the magistrate's recusal Kurt Sansone
10:11 Fenech: "We can find someone else who does not have any familiarity with the victim." Kurt Sansone
10:11 Defence lawyer Martin Fenech says that Comodini Cachia's argument that 'everyone knows everyone in Malta' further strengthens the need for justice to be seen to be done Kurt Sansone
10:10 Comodini Cachia: “In the child abuse case, the accused were priests and the judge had a position in a Church radio, making the connection a more direct one. Offering condolences, or being in the same school 30 years ago, is not enough of a connection.” Kurt Sansone
10:08 Comodini Cachia: “If we are going to have a recusal in this case, we can easily find people who have some connection in a small country like Malta. If we do this we are risking that justice is not done with anyone that is why the law gives certain parameters on which a recusal can be based.” Kurt Sansone
10:08 Lawyer Therese Comodini Cachia, appearing parte civile for the Caruana Galizia family, argues Daphne was a well-known public person and her husband is also a lawyer. Kurt Sansone
10:04 Defence lawyers argue that the magistrate would still be making decisions throughout the hearings, including on the admissibility of evidence and witnesses Kurt Sansone
10:02 EXPLAINER: Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech is currently presiding over the compilation of evidence. This is a pre-trial stage where the prosecution presents any evidence it has against the accused. The magistrate will decide if there is enough prima facie evidence for the accused to stand trial Kurt Sansone
10:01 Prosecution says magistrate has no ties to the victim that warrant recusal according to law Kurt Sansone
10:00 Prosecution insists, the magistrate will only be examining the evidence and not deciding the case itself Kurt Sansone
10:00 Magistrate says it was her duty to mention any possible ties she had but insists "they are not even ties" Kurt Sansone
09:59 In that case the appeals court to had agreed that justice needed to be seen to be done Kurt Sansone
09:58 Lawyer Valencia noted that in a case involving child abuse by priests, a judge had recused himself because of his ties to a religious radio station Kurt Sansone
09:57 Fenech: "Every accused person has the right to feel that the magistrate is completely independent. We want complete assurance that the magistrate in question has never had any contact, which could in some way affect her decisions." Kurt Sansone
09:56 Frendo Dimech has asked the lawyers to specify how this could impact the accused's right to a fair hearing Kurt Sansone
09:55 Lawyers Abela and Valencia pointed out that the recent exchange of condolences was of concern to their clients Kurt Sansone
09:55 Lawyer Martin Fenech says justice has to be seen to be done and that it was because of this that he was asking the magistrate to recuse herself Kurt Sansone
09:54 The accused have asked the magistrate to withdraw from the case given her acquaintance with the sister of the victim Kurt Sansone
09:53 Prosecution does not object to magistrate hearing the case despite her contact with Caruana Galizia's sister Kurt Sansone
09:51 Magistrate, the prosecution and the accused and their lawyers re-enter the courtroom Kurt Sansone
09:49 MaltaToday's Massimo Costa is reporting live from the courtroom in what is considered to be one of the most high-profile criminal cases in recent years Kurt Sansone
09:46 The magistrate summons the lawyers and the prosecution to her chambers while the accused are escorted out of the courtroom Kurt Sansone
09:44 Frendo Dimech said she had recently passed on her condolences to this same woman after the death of a relative Kurt Sansone
09:43 Magistrate points out that she had been in school with one of Daphne Caruana Galizia's sisters until 1983 and that they still exchange birthday greetings up to this day Kurt Sansone
09:41 Lawyer Martin Fenech has been appointed legal aide for Vince Muscat; lawyer Francina Abela will represent Alfred Degiorgio; lawyer Benjamin Valencia will now represent George Degiorgio alone Kurt Sansone
09:40 All three accused choose to have different lawyers representing them Kurt Sansone
09:39 George Degiorgio, Alfred Degiorgio and Vince Muscat were escorted inside the courtroom by three Special Response Team police officers Kurt Sansone
09:36 Magistrate explains the court's role at this stage is to hear the prosecution's case against the three men Kurt Sansone
09:35 Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech is telling the accused it is in their interest to have lawyers Kurt Sansone
09:34 Daphne Caruana Galizia's widower, Peter, her two sisters and parents are in court following proceedings Kurt Sansone
08:40 The accused were brought in to court straight from Corradino Correctional Facility, where they were last remanded in custody. Matthew Vella
08:38 The accused, George Degiorgio, Alfred Degiorgio and Vincent Muscat, have just arrived in court and escorted through the back entrance on Strait Street with a heavy police escort. Matthew Vella
08:33 The court sitting is expected to start at 9am, in the court of Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech. The case will start with the compilation of evidence stage where the prosecution will present to the court all the evidence it has against the accused before they are tried for the charges. Matthew Vella
08:32 Good morning: follow our live updates here on today's compilation of evidence in the case of the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. Matthew Vella

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