Court sketch by Sebastian Tanti Burlo
There was another twist to the court case against the three men accused of assassinating journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia this morning, after magistrate Charmaine Galea recused herself from the case due to a critical blogpost Caruana Galizia had written about her four years ago.
Galea’s decision means the public will have to wait even longer to hear the police evidence against George Degiorgio (Iċ-Ċiniż), his brother Alfred (Il-Fulu) and their friend Vincent Muscat (Il-Koħħu).
Galea becomes the second magistrate to recuse herself from the case, after Donatella Frendo Dimech withdrew last week following a complaint by the legal defence team that she had a conflict of interest because she use to go to school with one of Caruana Galizia’s sisters.
Charmaine Galea started today’s sitting by referring to a critical blogpost Caruana Galizia had written when she was appointed a magistrate back in 2013. Caruana Galizia had described Galea’s appointment as an example of cronyism by the Labour government, citing her history as the legal partner of then Labour deputy leader (now judge) Toni Abela.
“The victim had cast doubt on my ability as magistrate due to my ties with people who had ties with the government, and she had described my appointment as disgusting,” Galea said.
However, Philip Galea Farrugia – who is representing the Attorney General’s office in the prosecution team – said the prosecution had no problem with the case proceeding under Galea.
“Caruana Galizia’s criticism was due to political connections, which everybody has at the end of the day,” he said. “She didn’t criticise the court per se.”
Lawyer and PN MP Jason Azzopardi, appearing in parte civile for the Caruana Galizia family, delivered a passionate speech in which he warned Galea that her recusal would lead to a travesty of justice.
“The accused clearly want to delay this case for as long as possible so that they can get bailed out in 20 months, but we are against these tactics,” he said. “We are talking about the murder of a mother, wife, daughter and journalist which threw Malta into a state of shock and cast an international spotlight on us.”
“We are urging the court to not allow itself to be manipulated from those who want justice delayed insensitively and not to allow the administration of justice to be held hostage. Although in theory you could have grounds to recuse yourself, we are renouncing this possibility and humbly asking you to continue listening to this case. This is a crucial part of Malta’s history and magistrates shouldn’t abdicate from their responsibility. If you abstain yourself, then it will cause serious and irreparable harm to the administration of justice and will damage the spirit of the criminal law.
Legal aid lawyer Martin Fenech stood up to accuse Azzopardi of trying to pile pressure on the judiciary, and to urge Galea to recuse herself if she felt she needed to do so.
“Caruana Galizia described you as disgusting…I mean, she described your appointment as disgusting,” he said. “Such words are disparaging.”
Azzopardi stood up angrily to ask Fenech in what grounds the defence was objecting to Galea’s nomination, to which Fenech responded with a sly dig.
“We’re not in Parliament here, so let’s show some respect to each other,” he said. “You are doing your job and I doing mine.”
Galea suspended the case for a few minutes while she deliberated her position. Despite the prosecution having no problem with her appointment, Galea decided to recuse herself – arguing that justice must be seen to be done and dismissing the argument that her recusal could prejudice the administration of justice.