The Opposition this morning called for the resignation of Attorney General Victoria Buttigieg, saying it was “the only honourable path she has left”.
Shadow Justice Minister Karol Aquilina accused Buttigieg of breaking the code of ethics when, he says, she passed on confidential information she received from the magistrate leading a magisterial inquiry into the construction site death of 20-year-old Jean Paul Sofia to Prime Minister Robert Abela and Justice Minister Jonathan Attard.
Aquilina quoted Article 1 (6) of the Code of Ethics of the Attorney General’s office, which says, all those at the AG’s office “must keep all documents and information in their possession confidential unless their role or the interests of justice require otherwise.”
“Instead of being an example to those around her, Victoria Buttigieg chose to violate the Code of Ethics when she passed information to Robert Abela and Jonathan Attard even though she had an obligation to keep that information confidential,” Aquilina said this morning.
He went on to add how the information procured was then used by Abela and Attard “to deceive the people”.
Abela buckled to months of mounting public pressure and announced a public inquiry into Sofia’s death on Monday evening after he had his MPs vote against an opposition motion for the public inquiry to be instituted, and just before a public protest that was planned for that evening.
The sharp U-turn after months of resisting a public inquiry and insisting that a magisterial inquiry would suffice – despite pleas from Sofia’s family, civil society and much of the population at large – was taken on Monday when Abela lashed out at Inquiring Magistrate Marse-Anne Farrugia for having requested an ‘extension’ to the inquiry’s term.
Feigning indignation at the delay, Abela announced a public inquiry would be instituted.
Abela’s change of heart and his criticism of the magistrate led to a reprimand from the Chamber of Advocates yesterday, which expressed “concern” over the Prime Minister’s actions and his laying of blame on the magistrate for the ‘extension’.
Malta’s bar association said it was also concerned about how the Prime Minister “chose a news conference to attack a member of the judiciary when he knows full well that she is not in a position to defend herself”.
The Chamber also stressed that any such report is confidential and only for the Attorney General and that it should not have made its way to the Prime Minister.
“The Chamber appreciates that the judiciary is not beyond criticism, however, it calls for maturity and that in each case, a clear, complete picture is given factually and truthfully.”
Abela is a lawyer by profession.
It went on to explain how the Criminal Code regulates the procedure for conducting a magisterial inquiry and that, by law, a magistrate has 60 days in which to close an inquiry.
If the inquiry is not closed within that timeframe, the Chamber explained, the law provides that the magistrate files a report that is sent to the Attorney General in which the reasons for the delay are explained.
Following that, at the end of each month, until the inquiry is closed, the magistrate prepares another report to be forwarded to the Attorney General for her information only.
“The procedure followed by this magisterial inquiry is no different from the procedures followed in any other magisterial inquiries, and therefore it is clear that the magistrate did not request any extension of the inquiry’s term.”
The Opposition also took the Prime Minister to task for exploiting the standard situation for political opportunism.
Sofia was killed at what was to be a timber factory that was being built illegally on government property by Serbian contractors and Maltese developers with a criminal past and connections to the Lands Authority when it suddenly collapsed on 3 December.