Magistrate Nadine Lia has recused herself from the compilation of evidence against the four men who are charged in connection with the bomb which killed Daphne Caruana Galizia and the 2015 murder of lawyer Carmel Chircop, on the request of the Caruana Galizia family’s lawyer.
In a courtroom peppered with more security guards and lawyers than usual, given the number of persons charged, Lia’s decision started with a long-winded list of reasons as to why she should not be recusing herself. But her announcement took an unexpected turn when she said that although there were no grounds to do so, she would be abstaining from the case. She would do so in order to remain consistent with the previous cases from which she has recused herself, she said.
Robert Agius and Jamie Vella are charged with supplying the car bomb which killed journalist Caruana Galizia in October 2017. Vella, together with George Degiorgio has been charged with Chircop’s murder. The fourth man, Adrian Agius, the older brother of Robert Agius, is being charged with commissioning the murder of Chircop. The Agius brothers are known as Tal-Maksar.
Lia said the choice of magistrates is done by blind ballot and all the parties in the case had the opportunity to put forward candidates to the registrar, disallowing magistrates from partaking in the ballot prior to the name being called. Yet no parties had done so, she said. She also said the reasons for recusal according to law did not apply to this case.
“We live in a politically polarised country,” she said, adding that it would be a mistake to allow the court to “sink into political partisanship”.
Lia is the daughter-in-law of Pawlu Lia, the lawyer of disgraced former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. He has often represented government officials throughout the public inquiry into Caruana Galizia’s murder. Testimonies in court have previously alleged that persons within Muscat’s government were somehow implicated in the murder.
“Justice needs to be seen to be done,” parte civile lawyer Jason Azzopardi said in his request. While the prosecution team agreed with the family’s request, William Cuschieri, George Degiorgio’s lawyer said he objects to the appeal mainly because the reasons given in the request do not apply to his client.
Stressing that the request did not reflect on the personal integrity of the magistrate, part civile Azzopardi argued that the request was made in line with a similar decree in December 2019 where the same magistrate had recused herself from the case against suspected mastermind Yorgen Fenech. He also referred to the recusal of magistrate Consuelo Scerri Herrera from the Caruana Galizia murder inquiry in October 2017.
Last week, Magistrate Marse-Anne Farrugia recused herself since she had been involved in the magisterial inquiry into Chircop’s assassination.
Lia was controversially appointed magistrate in 2019. Her appointment, along with the appointment of another two magistrates, has been contested in court and taken up to the European Court of Justice by the civil society group Repubblika.