14:06 Updated with a correction.

The three men accused of homicide in the case of the assassination to kill Daphne Caruana Galizia instructed their legal aid to ask the Magistrate presiding over the compilation of the evidence against them to recuse herself. She agreed.

Twenty years ago Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech was in the same class in a little school with one of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s sisters. (Correction: I am now informed they were actually in class together 34 years ago). They had been out of touch for a long time. But they have recently exchanged condolences after bereavements they suffered.

Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech decided to accept the request and recuse herself from hearing the evidence compiled against il-Fulu, il-Koħħu and iċ-Ċiniż, for, as the maxim goes, justice must be seen to be done.

If that maxim is going to mean anything it must be applied to the suspects of the most heinous crimes even when the suspicion is very clearly justified. The presumption of their innocence and their right to a fair hearing are sacrosanct.

Also their right to proper defense which has to be given them because no lawyer is apparently willing to take up their brief.

Now it seems it’s going to prove difficult to have a Magistrate hearing the evidence against them. We’ll have to see how this first hurdle is overcome.

But isn’t it painfully ironic how having been a childhood school-mate with the sister of a murder victim is seen as justifying the recusal of a Magistrate but being married to a political functionary working under the direct discipline of the alleged perpetrators is not?

I refer of course to the decision by Judge Antonio Mizzi to ignore requests to recuse himself from deciding on the appeals filed by Joseph Muscat and his Panama gang from the order of a lower court to investigate him of crimes revealed by the Panama Papers.

Is it somehow easier to be persuaded by a band of criminals who have for years lived a life of ease funded by contract murders or their attempt than it is to be persuaded by a former leader of the opposition with little to no political authority let alone access to the vengeful resources of organised crime?

If it is, we are experiencing the institutional embodiment of a Mafia state, where the wheels of justice and law enforcement appear to turn but do so under the conditioning of real and perceived hidden power.