In a ruling on an application filed by former Enemalta Chairman Tancred Tabone, the Constitutional Court found that Justice Minister Owen Bonnici breached Tancred Tabone’s fundamental human rights as a result of a pronouncement he made during a Public Accounts Committee hearing in December 2013.
In that hearing Minister Owen Bonnici commented during the deposition of George Farrugia about payments Farrugia allegedly made to Tancred Tabone. During that deposition Owen Bonnici stated “li tajthomlu m’għandix dubju assolutament u li ħadhom m’għandix dubju lanqas”. (that you gave it to him I have absolutely no doubt; nor do I have doubt he took it”).
The Constitutional Court presided by Judge Anna Felice found this pronouncement in breach of the human right of Tancred Tabone to a fair hearing and the presumption of his innocence.
The issue raised by Tancred Tabone was about the insistence of the Public Accounts Committee for Tancred Tabone to be deposed as a witness in the Committee’s review of the National Auditor’s report in fuel procurement by Enemalta.
Tancred Tabone refused to answer the Committee’s questions on the grounds that he might incriminate himself in view of ongoing criminal proceedings against him for corruption and money laundering.
Upon this refusal, the Speaker of Parliament ruled that Tancred Tabone must depose himself and simply refuse to answer specific questions that could or would incriminate him.
The Constitutional Court found that in repeatedly summoning him to appear in front of it, the Public Accounts Committee and the Speaker through his ruling also breached Tancred Tabone’s fundamental human rights.
The criminal proceedings against Tancred Tabone are still ongoing. Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee has since closed its review of the National Auditor’s report into fuel procurement by Enemalta.
There are significant implications arising from this ruling as Parliament may have to revisit its rules when summoning witnesses that are accused or even witnesses in related proceedings in a court.
I was a witness in the Public Accounts Committee proceedings in this case.