Special rapporteur Pieter Omtzigt has expressed his surprise and disappointment at the government’s decision not to publish the terms of reference of the inquiry looking into the controversial crossover by lawyer Charles Mercieca from the Attorney General’s office to Yorgen Fenech’s defence team.
In a letter to Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis, Omtzigt said the inquiry was expected to address issues of profound and urgent public interest.
“Public concerns about the prosecution of the Daphne Caruana Galizia case in particular and the integrity of the criminal justice system, in general, will not be assuaged if everything about the substance of the inquiry remains secret,” he said.
Letter to minister of Justice of Malta @ZammitLewisEdw
on the ongoing situation concerning Mr. Charles Mercieca.
What are the terms of reference of the enquiry?
And will the whole enquiry be secret? pic.twitter.com/nHptcZGuOL
— Pieter Omtzigt (@PieterOmtzigt) May 18, 2020
Omtzigt’s letter refers to the sudden change of job by Mercieca, the son of former Labour parliamentary secretary Franco Mercieca, who was working as a lawyer at the office of the Attorney General one day, only to appear 24 hours later on the legal defence team of the man accused of being the mastermind of Caruana Galizia’s murder.
Mercieca’s move immediately drew criticism – on a local and international level – and Omtzigt was one of the first to speak out.
In fact, Omtzigt reminded Zammit Lewis that he wrote to the Attorney General, in his capacity as Special Rapporteur on the Caruana Galizia assassination and the rule of law in Malta for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, asking a series of questions about Mercieca’s conduct and its possible implications.
He pointed out that he had welcomed the government’s announcement of a public inquiry, subject to the immediate publication of its terms of reference and how it would complement the justice commission’s disciplinary proceedings.
“I was therefore surprised and disappointed to learn that the terms of reference will not be published and, furthermore, the inquiry report may not be published either,” he said.
Mercieca’s actions raised serious concerns about their possible impact on the Attorney General’s prosecution of the Caruana Galizia case and about the ethical regulation of his office, and may have a negative impact on public trust in his office.
“I appreciate that certain aspects of the situation, such as possible breaches of professional ethics, may be addressed through other procedures,” he said while asking Zammit Lewis for his observations on the matter.
The inquiry was called for by the Caruana Galizia family that filed a formal complaint about Mercieca’s move with the Commission for the Administration of Justice, saying the move pointed to collusion between the defence team of the man accused and a serving criminal prosecutor.
“The implications for the Office of the Attorney General and for Malta’s already weak criminal justice system are serious,” they said.
Former judge at the European Court of Human Rights Giovanni Bonello criticised the State’s “weak response” to the “legal, ethical and professional treachery” of Mercieca, saying it further undermined any “credibility in the will of the State to really come clean in the Caruana Galizia assassination”.
Mercieca is due to face potentially gruelling proceedings before the Committee on Advocates and Legal Procurators, headed by former Chief Justice Vincent De Gaetano.