Council of Europe rapporteur voices ‘serious concern’ if Prime Minister imposes deadline on Caruana Galizia inquiry

Council of Europe rapporteur writes to Maltese Prime Minister seeking clarification on Caruana Galizia inquiry term

Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe rapporteur Pieter Omtzigt
Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe rapporteur Pieter Omtzigt

It is a matter of “serious concern” if the Prime Minister has imposed a termination deadline by mid-December on the Daphne Caruana Galizia public inquiry, Pieter Omtzigt said.

The Council of Europe rapporteur expressed his concern on the matter in a letter sent to Robert Abela today.

Omtzigt said his concern stemmed from Abela’s reply to the inquiry board that sought an extension to its term, with the Prime Minister asking it to complete its work by 15 December.

The rapporteur said that although the inquiry board wrote to the Prime Minister to seek an extension, this did not seem to be required and this was a matter of courtesy.

Omtzigt said the independent inquiry was established in fulfilment of Malta’s obligations as outlined in the European Convention on Human Rights to probe whether the state did enough to prevent the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

The Dutch MP said that the inquiry’s independence “must include the exclusive competence to order its own business”.

Although the inquiry’s terms of reference state that the board shall endeavour to conclude its work within nine months, this must not prejudice “the proper fulfilment of its terms of reference”.

“This does not seem to me to set a fixed time limit. Instead, it seems that the time limit is deliberately flexible, in order to allow the inquiry, the time it needs to fulfil its task. As an independent body, only the board of the inquiry itself can determine when it has concluded its work, whether it needs longer than nine months, and how much longer it needs,” Omtzigt said.

The Caruana Galizia family has formally objected to the Prime Minister’s decision to truncate the inquiry’s mandate by filing a note of submission with the board on Friday.

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Inquiry head, retired judge Michael Mallia, said the board would be notifying the Prime Minister with the family’s submission.

Independent candidate Arnold Cassola has also written to President George Vella on the matter asking him to step in and ensure the inquiry takes all the time it needs to complete its work.

Omtzigt augured that the situation was the result of a misconception regarding Abela’s correspondence with the board, which has not been published.

“Should you be able to confirm your intention to continue to respect the independence of the inquiry and support its activities for as long as the board of inquiry itself deems necessary, I would obviously be reassured,” the rapporteur wrote.

Omtzigt was appointed by the Council of Europe to draw up a report on Malta following Caruana Galizia’s murder.

The damning report eventually led to pressure for the setting up of an independent public inquiry last November. Government’s initial choice for inquiry members was contested and following intense negotiations with the Caruana Galizia family, a new board was constituted.

It is chaired by Mallia and includes chief justice emeritus Joseph Said Pullicino and Judge Abigail Lofaro.