Updated to include the Caruana Galizia family’s reply to the Maltese government.
Special Rapporteur Pieter Omtzigt welcomed the news of the inquiry into Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination, yet stressed the need for the inquiry to be “fully independent and its members impartial beyond question”.
Omtzigt is the author of the report on rule of law in Malta and the investigation into Caruana Galizia’s assassination that raised a number of irregularities in the investigation into the journalist’s death and set a three-month deadline for the Maltese government to launch an independent public inquiry.
The report, adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in May, was highly critical of the Maltese legal system, including failures of the rule of law, and ongoing impunity despite a list of scandals involving high-ranking public officials and members of parliament.
In his reaction, Omtzigt noted the government’s announcement was made only a few days short of the 26 September deadline set in the report. He said he would “examine closely the terms of reference of the inquiry…as well as its scope, powers, and membership, before commenting further.”
The Assembly’s Legal Affairs Committee will discuss Malta’s implementation of the resolution as a whole when it meets during the autumn plenary session, he added.
Press freedom watchdogs react
On Friday evening, the Maltese government announced the appointment of former Judge Michael Mallia to preside over a public inquiry into the journalist’s assassination. Others members on the Board of Inquiry include the former Dean of the Faculty of Law, Ian Refalo, and forensic expert Anthony Abela Medici.
Concerns were immediately raised on the political ties of the Board members, as well as Mallia’s involvement in the criminal investigation. Caruana Galizia’s heirs called for an immediate meeting with the Prime Minister to discuss their concerns.
The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Harlem Desir, stressed the need for the inquiry to be “fully independent in order to bring long-overdue justice for her family, colleagues, and the whole of Maltese society.”
He said there can be no justice unless this process was fully independent, comprehensive and impartial. “I will continue to closely monitor developments and the judicial process.”
Public inquiry into death of #DaphneCaruanaGalizia in #Malta must be fully independent and yield justice. I will continue to closely follow developments. See full statement here: https://t.co/BnH3eTJZ75 pic.twitter.com/MEVP8usXGU
— OSCE media freedom (@OSCE_RFoM) September 21, 2019
International press freedom organisations and journalists in different countries stressed the same point on the need for independence and impartiality for justice to be done.
Government defends choice of Board members
In a statement released on Saturday afternoon, the Maltese government defended its choice of Board members:
“Mr Justice Emeritus Michael Mallia’s role as court-appointed expert in the compilation of evidence proceedings following the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, this does not interfere with his role as Chairperson of the Inquiry. In fact, Mr Justice Mallia was appointed as expert upon the consent of all parties involved.
Professor Ian Refalo’s appointment was criticised solely due to his role as a professional lawyer. The right to access to a lawyer and the right of a lawyer to practice his or her profession are cornerstones of the rule of law, and this does not impede a lawyer’s judgement. Professor Refalo is well known for his integrity and is a point of reference for the legal profession in Malta. That being said, lawyers are governed by a Code of Ethics.
With regards to the current role of Dr Anthony Abela Medici as Commissioner for NGOs, it has to be stated the Voluntary Organisations Act provides for important safeguards of security of tenure for this post. Therefore, the claim that the Commissioner for NGOs is dependent on government is incorrect,” the government said.
Referring to Caruana Galizia family’s request for a meeting with the Prime Minister, the government said: “contacts were ongoing for the meeting to take place”.
‘Board members unconfirmed till consultation is over’ – Caruana Galizia
“We are relieved to hear that the Maltese government, after failing to answer our legal letters, now wants to discuss the membership of the Board of Inquiry into our wife and mother’s assassination,” the Caruana Galizia family replied in a statement on Saturday evening.
Consultation on the Board’s membership is in accordance with the obligations owed to bereaved next of kin, pursuant to Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The family said the consultation would also allow the opportunity to provide the government with notice of any connections between members and Caruana Galizia, and any pronouncements they have made on her assassination.
“The membership suggested by the government late last night remains unconfirmed until this consultation is over. Meanwhile, we note that the suggested members have caused grave public concern,” the family said.
“We share the public’s concern and will raise further concerns when the Prime Minister agrees to meet us. We are waiting to hear from him.”
They stressed that for the public inquiry to be in compliance with the law, it must be truly independent, impartial, and have the trust of all parties.
“We trust that any suggested members are aware of these legal requirements and will spare the need for recusal applications. Malta has been denied truth and justice for two years. It cannot wait any longer.”