Judge calls out ‘disrespectful’ tactics to remove court expert in Caruana Galizia murder case

The judge had harsh words for suspect Alfred Degiorgio's lawyer, William Cuschieri, who he said was humiliating the Maltese justice system

In March lawyers for Alfred Degiorgio filed urgent proceedings asking for the removal of a court-appointed expert Martin Bajada
In March lawyers for Alfred Degiorgio filed urgent proceedings asking for the removal of a court-appointed expert Martin Bajada

Court expert, Martin Bajada, who is assisting in the inquiry into the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, has refused to answer questions about his work in Constitutional proceedings filed by Alfred Degiorgio.

Degiorgio filed the case, asking for Bajada's removal from the proceedings on the basis that doubts were cast over his integrity as a court witness by a past criminal conviction.

While Bajada's appointment as court expert has been successfully attacked in the past on the strength of the conviction however Bajada still enjoys the trust of members of the judiciary, who regularly appoint him to carry out tasks.

Summoned to testify before judge Silvio Meli this morning,

Bajada explained that following that 2016 judgment he had immediately drawn the attention of the courts to it and asked for direction regarding cases in which he had been appointed as a handwriting expert.

“Yet, after consulting the parties involved in those cases, the presiding members of the judiciary all confirmed my appointment as handwriting expert,” Bajada explained.

Asked by Mr Degiorgio’s lawyer, William Cuschieri, to specify his qualifications, Bajada replied that, aside from being a lawyer, he was also a Fellow of the English Institution of Analysts and Programmers, presenting a copy of his full qualifications to support his statement. 

Bajada said he was bound by law not to speak about the inquiry. Shown documents and asked if he recognized them, he repeated that he was bound by secrecy as he was participating in the inquiry. “All I can say is that I have been appointed as an expert…I cannot answer questions about the inquiry in genere,” he said.

There were murmurs of disapproval from the opposing bench as lawyer William Cuschieri exhibited a large pile of documents taken from the criminal inquiry and proceeded to ask questions to the expert about them, all of which he refused to answer.

The judge warned that if documents containing private phone records of people in the Bidnija area at the time and which were presented in the criminal case, where to published after being made accessible through the Constitutional case, he could ask the Commissioner of Police to take steps against the lawyer, as publishing the records of a criminal inquiry is a crime.

Lawyer Victoria Buttigieg for the office of the Attorney General submitted that the lawyer had to request permission from the magistrate carrying out the inquiry through the proper channels before exhibiting such sensitive information in a public forum. She requested the removal of the documents from the case.

Cuschieri attempted to argue that the documents were already accessible to the parties and that the court could limit access to the public. He was however overruled, with the judge saying the documents were not relevant but also not legally exhibited. “I don’t even want them in my hands!” said the judge, ruing how respect in court had “gone to the dogs”.

The judge had harsh words for the lawyer, after he summoned a magistrate’s deputy registrar to testify about events recorded in the acts of the case, saying that “in 19 years here I have never seen this. This is unprecedented. You are doing a disservice to justice. You’re humiliating the Maltese justice services.”

Earlier in the sitting, Attorney General (AG) Peter Grech took the witness stand to explain why Bajada was still being appointed.

He began by saying that he was aware of the sentence Chetcuti Bonavita vs Fenech Adami et, which had ordered the removal of Bajada from the case due to his UK conviction for having falsified a signature. Cuschieri asked if Grech had asked for the removal of Bajada in other cases.

The case was one in which Bajada was one of three additional experts who were to testify as to whether a document was signed by a person or not, he replied. Bajada had a number of appointments, so the AG, whenever he met a case in which Bajada was an expert would see if it was one likely to be decided before the Court of Magistrates or needed to go before a jury, explained Grech.

“The majority of these cases would end up before the Court of Magistrates so the prosecution and defence were being asked whether they had any objection to Bajada and if not, to declare that they would not be raising it at a later stage in proceedings.”

If this was not done, the court would be asked to substitute the expert. “I am informed that there is just one case where Bajada was asked to be removed,” he said.

In other cases before the Criminal Court, to avoid this issue being raised during a jury trial, the AG would request that another expert be appointed to do the same work that Bajada did. “Not that Bajada’s work be removed from the acts of the proceedings, but that a second opinion be sought,” Grech specified.

This situation persisted from April to December 2016 but after that, in January 2017 the Court of Appeal, in Police vs Franklin Gauci, judge Edwina Grima had differentiated between situations where the expert is appointed to carry out work that had subjective elements and ones where experts are simply there to confirm objective facts like call profiles. The court had held that in the latter situation, there was no basis for the substitution of Dr. Bajada.

This position was confirmed in March 2017 by another sentence by the superior Court of Appeal in Republic vs Borus. In that case, the superior court of appeal had been presided by the same judge who had decided Chetcuti Bonavita vs Fenech Adami et. After that the AG stopped making requests for removal where Bajada was appointed to carry out verification work, he said.

The case continues in October.