PAC witnesses cannot invoke right to silence arbitrarily, Speaker rules

After former Nexia BT partner Karl Cini refused to answer questions by PAC, the Speaker of the House rules that this ‘right to silence’ can only be invoked under certain circumstances

Witness called to testify before parliamentary committees cannot invoke their right to silence arbitrarily, the Speaker of the House ruled on Wednesday.

Speaker Anġlu Farrugia ruled on a request by Nationalist MP Darren Carabott, who is Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), after former Nexia BT partner Karl Cini refused to answer any questions put to him by the committee members.

Carabott had asked the Speaker to clarify the exact scenarios in which a witness can or cannot respond to questions put to them by committees.

The Speaker ruled that a witness can only refuse to answer questions if they have been charged with a crime that is related to the committee proceedings. In this case, it is up to the committee to ask the witness or their lawyer to provide details of the criminal charges.

And while any witness can invoke their right to silence, they can only do so when the question is incriminating.

On Tuesday, Cini was called in front of the PAC to answer to questions relating to the Nexia BT’s involvement in the Electrogas tender.

The PAC is examining the Auditor General’s report on the contracts awarded to Electrogas Ltd by Enemalta. The company had secured the tender to build and operate a gas power station and LNG terminal.

When Cini’s testimony started, his lawyer immediately stated that his client will exercise his right to silence. “My client will not exercise a right to not incriminate yourself, but a right to silence,” he clarified.

Carabott had insisted that Cini can only choose not to respond to questions that could incriminate him. All other questions had to be answered, he said.

But Cini’s lawyer maintained that his client had a right to remain silent, and that this is a basic human right.