I don’t think there’s design in the current chaos in court in the prosecution of three alleged hired assassins accused of killing Daphne Caruana Galizia. I don’t think they have a planned strategy to go through all Magistrates until the time limit to indict them expires and they can walk free. I don’t think Magistrates have agreed in a smoke filled room to dodge some ricocheting bullet and avoid passing judgement on these particularly dangerous suspects. I don’t think the prime minister has commandeered our judiciary to ensure these suspects are given a lifetime immunity from some perverse interpretation of the double jeopardy principle.
I declare what I don’t think first because where simpler explanations are available, I’d rather steer clear of conspiracies.
I think our institutions are failing in the core job they are entrusted with and what is happening in court in these tense and despairing days is another symptom of the general environment of inadequacy, mediocrity and amateurism.
That Consuelo Scerri Herrera was the wrong Magistrate to conduct an inquiry into the killing of her nemesis is a given. That Tonio Mizzi should have recused himself from hearing his wife’s boss’s appeal from a lower court’s order to the police to investigate him also seems self-evident to me, though not to him.
But Donatella Frendo Dimech’s decision to recuse herself because she shared a school bench with the victim’s sister 34 years ago is ridiculous. Whatever the intentions, the legal subtleties, the nuances that may have gone into her decision, as a self-declared layman looking at this from the outside, this cannot be what the legislators intended when they designed these laws.
Charmaine Galea’s decision to recuse herself because Daphne Caruana Galizia had mentioned her once in her blog in a list of judges Daphne Caruana Galizia believed were chosen because of their proximity to Labour is ridiculous. Firstly journalists mention Magistrates in their reporting as a matter of course. If this were to be considered a conflict that prevents anyone to sit in judgement in these cases, journalists can be killed with impunity.
Furthermore, as the family’s lawyers argued today when pleading to Charmaine Galea to hear the case, if anyone had any reason to complain about Charmaine Galea that would be the victim’s family since after all if the Magistrate were to be so shallow as to be influenced by a brief comment on the Magistrate’s uncontested political affiliations in her life before her elevation to the bench, that influence has no bearing on her decision on whether the accused should be indicted. Consider the extreme hypothesis that Charmaine Galea is blinded by prejudice against Daphne Caruana Galizia. Such prejudice would help the accused. Therefore if only they were the only ones objecting to her hearing the case, she should have refused and the case heard. She did not. Her decision is ridiculous.
Claire Stafrace Zammit will start hearing the case tomorrow. Perhaps the accused will ask her to recuse herself because Daphne wrote about her husband quitting MEPA. Or that Daphne wrote about her refusing to take an untimely phone call from Franco Debono. Or because she held two sittings to collect evidence requested by the Italian authorities on the oil smuggling case.
The family’s lawyers today reminded the court of an important court decision from 1984. It was the time of church schools crisis, an issue which, ironically, introduced Daphne Caruana Galizia to public life when she protested against government abuse. The church was suing the government and the latter was dodging that bullet by asking any judge due to hear the case to recuse themselves because they had some child or grand-child in a church school which conflicted them to the point of excluding them from hearing the case.
The Constitutional Court of the time presided by Wallace Gulia reminded that necessity is above the expectation of the law. Judgement needed to be made, therefore the niceties of conflict of interest were secondary and could not stop due process from continuing.
It is necessary the evidence against these three people is heard to ensure that if sound, the evidence leads to their indictment and the fair trial they deserve.
The rest of us deserve justice. This consistent failure of the institutions to deliver on their duties is a failure of policy. It is a failure that can only be addressed by policy. And policy is the responsibility of the government that runs the country, that chooses judges and magistrates, the provides them with the protection, the resources and the training they need to do their job. This failure demands political responsibility.
The rest of us deserve justice. As things stand today we don’t feel like we’re getting it.