The Caruana Galizia family lawyers have made a submission to the board of inquiry looking into journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination regarding the Prime Minister’s decision to give a “one time” extension which is set to end in December.
This request was made orally on Wednesday in court but a signed document was presented to the inquiry by family lawyers Jason Azzopardi and Therese Comodini Cachia on Friday.
The Prime Minister has no discretion to say if he agrees or not with giving an extension to the board, the letter said. “The Prime Minister has no authority to set a term in an abusive and arbitrary manner in the way he is expecting in the letter presented to this board.”
“It was also made clear that this board was set up to be independent of government and to be lead independently of the government. The only obligation this board has towards the government is to submit a copy of the report to the Prime Minister and the Attorney General.”
In the submission, the lawyers reminded the board that it was set up to follow obligations set by Article 2 of the European Convention where it lays out the states’ obligation to protect the people’s life in its territory and to investigate whether there were any shortcomings from the authorities.
“The terms of reference for the public inquiry are clear. It is within the state-appointed board’s remit, and not the government’s, to decide when its work is complete. If the board decides it needs more time to fulfil its remit, the deadline of the public inquiry is automatically extended,” the foundation said in a statement.
The lawyers argued that the board of inquiry was set up after negotiations which were not easy between the family, former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, then Justice Minister Owen Bonnici and the Attorney General.
It also noted that the board was set up after numerous calls by the family of the journalist to set up this board and for close to two years the government kept refusing.
The lawyers said the independence of this board is even more important because it was set up to investigate declarations and shortcomings of the state.
The board had an initial target to conclude its inquiry in a period of nine months. But the lawyers argued that the board was invited to do so within this timeframe but without prejudice for the terms of reference agreed upon.
It also noted that the board has not wasted any time and has in fact already called multiple witnesses to testify.
The Prime Minister’s request violates Article 2 of the European Convention, they added.
The journalist’s family has stressed that the government should not interfere in the working of the public inquiry. It said that the board has already stated that the new deadline is insufficient and further extension will be necessary.
“Government’s role is to provide the board with the necessary resources to complete its task, and to act on the recommendations of its final report.”
In court on Friday, lawyer Comodini Cachia said: “All the board can do is to write to (Prime Minister Robert) Abela, notifying him that they need more time so that he can keep providing the resources, which the government is obliged to do through the inquiry’s terms and conditions. We do not have the opportunity currently to present a complete witness list for the board to follow, because with each testimony we are finding more and more people who need to testify”.
It followed statements made to the public inquiry board on Wednesday in which the lawyer said it was important for the board to have the “serenity, time and facilities to investigate properly” and it cannot be hindered by lesser amounts of time given by the prime minister.
She added that numerous witnesses still need to be summoned and the family, lawyers and the board need the time to prepare for their written submissions after the board concludes its report.
Judge Michael Mallia said that he will order a formal notification to Abela with regards the arguments presented by Comodini Cachia. “Under EU law, you must conclude once you have heard what is needed,” he said.
Special Rapporteur for the Council of Europe Pieter Omtzigt supported the Caruana Galizia family’s request saying this investigation is the only legal process that is casting public light on the circumstances surrounding the death the journalist.
“Police investigations and magisterial inquiries into these allegations have still not produced any results, continuing impunity.”
In a letter sent to the Prime Minister, Omtzigt said while the request by the inquiry board was courteous, it does not seem to be required either by the terms of reference or by the Inquiries Act.