The follow up to the report on Malta by the Special Rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) Pieter Omtzigt has been given a six month extension period.
Omtzigt had been appointed by the Council to conduct a follow up on Malta after a council resolution on his report had underlined the seriousness of rule of law failings in Malta, and raised concerns over the progress and impartiality of the investigation into the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in October 2017.
The deadline for the follow up report on his last assessment, originally set for June 2020, has now been moved by a further six months.
The Special Rapporteur was last in Malta in February. He said he was “encouraged to hear from the government that an extensive package of reform proposals was almost ready for publication and would be presented to the Venice Commission for its opinion”. Three months later, he said he had yet to hear from the Maltese government on this package.
“My earlier report noted the scepticism of many in Malta, who feared that the reform process would be ‘handled behind closed doors between the leadership of the governing and opposition parties’. I concluded that this would be wrong, yet it is exactly what seems to be happening,” Omtzigt had said.
Malta is the first EU Member State to be subjected to the scrutiny of a Special Rapporteur.
Omtzigt has been keeping a close watch on Malta. Earlier this month, he wrote a strongly worded letter to Attorney General Peter Grech following the revelations that young lawyer Charles Mercieca switched from working as a State prosecutor to the defence team of murder suspect Yorgen Fenech, overnight. Fenech was charged with masterminding the assassination of Caruana Galizia.
In the letter, Omtzigt said that Mercieca’s actions raised “glaring issues” of professional ethics and potentially of criminal liability. This had to be investigated “rapidly and decisively”.
It was a sentiment echoed by former European Court of Human Rights Judge Giovanni Bonello who described the young lawyer’s move as “treachery“.