Attorney General dismisses calls for parallel public inquiry into Caruana Galizia murder

Addressing the Council of Europe, Attorney General Peter Grech said there was no legal basis to claims that a failure to hold such an inquiry constituted a breach of the family’s human rights

Justice minister Owen Bonnici (right) with Attorney General Peter Grech
Justice minister Owen Bonnici (right) with Attorney General Peter Grech

Attorney General Peter Grech has told the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) that there was no legal basis to claims by the Caruana Galizia, that a failure to launch a public inquiry into the journalist’s death constitutes a breach of their fundamental human rights.

Grech was speaking at a public hearing on Caruana Galizia’s murder, together with Justice Minister Own Bonnici and Martin Kuijer from the council’s Venice Commission, where he addressed calls for an inquiry, as well as other points related to the murder investigation.

The Attorney General explained that he had been in contact with lawyers representing the family and had been informed that the family would be bringing a case claiming a breach of their human rights.

“We have engaged with the family’s lawyers and we have engaged openly regarding this,” Grech said.

He acknowledged that further inquiry into the case “may be appropriate”, but said that this did not necessarily mean that the two inquiries needed to be held in parallel. In fact, he said that past judgments by the European Court of Human Rights allowed for there to be a sequence of investigations and did not necessitate that they are all held in parallel.

“It is appropriate that action be properly targeted and that there be a proper and effective use of resources,” he said, adding that it was also relevant to ask whether a parallel public inquiry could prejudice ongoing criminal proceedings aimed at identifying those who had commissioned the murder. 

The magistrate’s inquiry, he said, was a broad one that could take him wherever the evidence pointed to.

Grech then read through a list of cases where the Strasbourg court had not found that a parallel public inquiry should have taken place.

Moreover, he said the family had already made a claim based on Article 2 of the declaration of Human Rights and that no mention of a public inquiry had been made in that case. “I would have expected all relevant issues to have been brought the court at this point,” he said.

Grech also noted that the criminal code gives him the power to ask a question to an inquiring magistrate when necessary, something he had offered to the family, however, he said the family did not engage in this regard.

Murder investigations still ongoing

The Attorney General also gave an overview of some aspects of the Maltese justice system, particularly magisterial inquiries, including the obligation to preserve evidence and to look into the cause of death, as well as the power to order arrests, the seizure of objects and the appointment of experts.

Grech explained that before going to trial, a criminal case must pass through committal proceedings, with the court having to decide whether there are sufficient grounds for trial. A magistrate’s inquiry report can be placed before the court, he said.

Jason Azzopardi (right) during the Council of Europe hearing
Jason Azzopardi (right) during the Council of Europe hearing

He said that committal proceedings against the men accused of murdering Caruana Galizia were ongoing and that all witnesses were being heard in order to ensure the strongest possible case against the three men.

Grech stressed that the three arrests made so far were not the end of investigations. 

Pieter Omtzigt, who is preparing a report for PACE on Caruana Galizia’s murder and the rule of law in Malta, asked Grech whether he had made requests for information to foreign jurisdictions, including the United Arab Emirates where the company 17 Black was incorporated, and Germany, whose police force is in possession of Caruana Galizia’s laptop.

“There is a limit to what I can say about investigations in such a public forum. The fact that I can’t tell you does not mean that nothing has been done,” Grech said. “I cannot engage in giving details of an investigation in a public forum.”

Venice Commission analysis did not go into specific cases

Martin Kuijer from the Venice Commission explained that a review of Malta’s constitutional set up had been requested by both the government of Malta and PACE. Both requests, he said, were very broad and as such the commission had chosen to concentrate on the most relevant topics.

He said the council had offered advice on the way in which reform could happen without being “too directive”.

“We realise that whether something works in a particular country depends on the holistic picture in that country,” he said.

Kuijer said that while the request from PACE had been made “at least in part” due to Caruana Galizia’s murder, the commission had not probed the murder or any of the journalist’s claims.

 

He repeated observations in the report that the Prime Minister held too much power and that reforms were required in a number of areas, including the manner in which members of the judiciary are appointed and parliamentarians’ part-time status.

Minister still disagrees with Caruana Galizia’s writing style

After the initial opening remarks, the discussion was opened to questions from the floor.

Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi asked the minister how credible he could be when speaking about corruption given that his ministry had engaged Nexia BT Brian Tonna on various jobs.

Azzopardi also asked how the minister could say that the Venice Commission had pointed mainly to legacy issues, when there were clear references to top government officials.

Bonnici was also asked about comments he had made in the past where he described Caruana Galizia as a hate blogger and whether he still felt the same way. The minister insisted that he still disagreed with Caruana Galizia’s style of writing. “Maybe he should ask his own party leader who had called her a ‘bicca blogger’,” Bonnici replied.

As regards Brian Tonna, Bonnici said he had not worked for the ministry in this legislature.

He also noted that there had been two investigations which had so far been concluded and which had found no wrongdoing. “I hope Mr Azzopardi will respect the outcome of the court decisions once the outcomes are concluded.”

Ineffective Permanent Commission Against Corruption

Bonnici was also asked about Malta’s Permanent Commission Against Corruption, and whether it had led to any convictions since it was set up. Bonnici noted that the commission had a representative nominated by each of the Prime Minister and the Opposition leader and that it had been this way “since forever”.

“I agree that the working of the commission has not led to concrete results,” Bonnici said, adding however that the commission did not have exclusive jurisdiction to fight corruption.

He said there had been cases where eventually appeared before the courts.

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