Court tells Simon Busuttil he cannot request judge’s recusal in Panama Papers case

The court said the recusal of Labour MEP’s husband on Panama Papers case could not be invoked by the Nationalist MP but only by one of the 'victims' in the case • Simon Busuttil expected to take the matter to the European Court of Human Rights

The Constitutional Court has decided that Simon Busuttil had no right to ask for Judge Antonio Mizzi's recusal as he was not the suspect in the case
The Constitutional Court has decided that Simon Busuttil had no right to ask for Judge Antonio Mizzi's recusal as he was not the suspect in the case

A decision by the constitutional court for the recusal of Judge Antonio Mizzi from an inquiry into the Panama Papers has been overturned on appeal.

Former Opposition leader Simon Busuttil had filed a request for an inquiry into the Panama Papers revelations, but after a magistrate found there were grounds for such an inquiry, it was appealed by 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.

The appeal was due to be heard by Judge Mizzi, however Busuttil filed a constitutional case demanding that Mizzi recuse himself because of a potential conflict of interest stemming from the fact that he is married to Labour MEP Marlene Mizzi.

Busuttil’s request was upheld last July, only to be appealed by the Attorney General.

The Attorney General’s appeal was based on the view that an inquiry is only intended to preserve evidence and not to pass judgment, meaning that none of Busuttil’s rights would be impinged upon if Mizzi were to hear the case.

The AG also argued that since any citizen could request an inquiry, Busuttil could not be considered a victim in this case, and that while Mizzi’s wife was a Labour MEP, the judge had his own ideas, principles and opinions.

Busuttil had no right to ask for recusal

In a preliminary judgment today, the court rejected the AG’s claims that an inquiry was only intended to preserve evidence, arguing that the safeguards of the right to a fair trial also applied to a criminal inquiry.

But while the case could not be dismissed on the grounds that it was an inquiry, the appeals court found that Busutill had no right to invoke such safeguards since he was not a victim. Such safeguards, it said, can only be invoked by the suspected persons.

The judgment means that Mizzi will not be required to recuse himself from the case. However, the judge will be retiring from the bench next month, which means that he will realistically never hear the case.

Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi, who appeared for Busuttil, told MaltaToday that Busuttil is expected to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

"The principle at stake is too important to give up. I will therefore take this struggle for justice to the European Court of Human Rights," Busuttil said in a tweet. 

READ ALSO: Simon Busuttil was referred to as ‘LOO’ by judge's MEP wife, court hears

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