Court rules PN evidence is admissible in Panama judge recusal case

Judge dismisses request by Prime Minister's lawyers to expunge documents presented by former PN leader Simon Busuttil in Panama recusal case

Judge Antonio Mizzi has refused to abstain from a case because his wife is a Labour MEP
Judge Antonio Mizzi has refused to abstain from a case because his wife is a Labour MEP

A judge has dismissed a request to expunge certain documents from a case filed by the PN, demanding the recusal of the sitting judge in the Panama appeals case.

Judge Joseph Zammit Mackeon, presiding the First Hall of the Civil Court in its Constitutional jurisdiction was ruling on the admissibility of evidence in a case filed by the Nationalist Party.

The PN claims its right to a fair hearing was violated by the refusal of a judge to step aside in a case in he may be perceived as having an interest. The judge is Antonio Mizzi, the husband of Labour MEP Marlene Mizzi.

The case relates to the seven appeals from magistrate Ian Farrugia’s decision to green-light an inquiry into a number of high-profile Maltese figures mentioned in the Panama Papers leak: Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, his chief of staff Keith Schembri and Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi, together with businessmen Brian Tonna, Karl Cini, Malcolm Scerri and Adrian Hillman, had each filed separate appeals to this decision, which were assigned to judge Antonio Mizzi.

But former PN leader Simon Busuttil challenged the judge’s suitability to hear the case due to the fact that his wife had publicly expressed an opinion on the Panama Papers scandal.

Judge Mizzi refused to recuse himself, leading Busuttil to claim that his right to a fair hearing had been breached, kicking off the constitutional court case and a new judge to hear the appeals.

Lawyers Mark Vassallo, Aaron Mifsud Bonnici and Pawlu Lia for the defendants, had argued that the arguments made before judge Mizzi had no place or relevance to this case and asked that a number of documents which the PN had exhibited be expunged.

Judge Zammit Mackeon quoted the Code of Organisation and Civil Procedure, which stipulated that the best evidence available to the parties should be produced. “Cases are decided on the best evidence. They are not decided on the basis of any evidence, whatever they may be, without any criteria. On the content of that reported in newspapers and social media, as reflected in the documents cited, the court feels the applicant is not unable to produce the best evidence.”

The court ruled that some of the documents were only evidence of their publication, not of their contents. “If the applicant contends that Onor. Marlene Mizzi’s statement constitutes a breach of his right to a fair hearing under the Constitution and Convention, then he should bring the best evidence of that which was said. Nothing is stopping the applicants from producing Onor. Mizzi herself as a witness to confirm or deny that which had been reported on the newspapers or social media.”

A number of the documents exhibited had been objected to on the basis of secrecy as they were part of a magisterial inquiry. The court disagreed with this, quoting the 1997 appeal case Republic vs Emanuel Farrugia et, which held that nothing precluded acts of unconnected proceedings from being admitted into another case if they are relevant and useful and within the parameters of the law.

“The secrecy argument raised ...doesn’t hold water, so much so that the applicant obtained a legal copy of the two decrees without difficulty; and because they had been at his disposal, presented them as evidence in this case.”

The case continues.

Lawyer Jason Azzopardi is appearing for the PN, Professor Ian Refalo and lawyers Mark Vassallo, Aaron Mifsud Bonnici and Pawlu Lia for the defendants.