The young man died, buried under the rubble of collapsed shoddy works on public land. He is not the first nor the last to be killed by the negligence and greed of others. But his mother’s dogged determination not to let the killing of her son to be forgotten by everyone else without consequence has made his case particularly unique.

The echoes of the killing of Daphne Caruana Galizia and the determination of her family to obtain justice for her are transparent and obvious.

No one knows that better than Robert Abela.

He expects a public inquiry to find that his government enabled the environment where construction magnates with close association with, and a master-slave dynamic exerting control on, people in politics thought they could profit without limit and cheat without consequence. There would be no consequence even when the cheating would cost the lives of neighbours, workers, and innocent bystanders.

Robert Abela can’t afford such a ruling. Especially because, by definition, public inquiries release their conclusions publicly.

He’s panicking and his letter to the Chief Justice yesterday complaining that it was taking the magistrate conducting the inquiry too long and delaying justice shows that.

First the many ways the letter is absolutely misleading the public must be listed:

  1. A magisterial inquiry gathers evidence that is relevant for possible criminal proceedings. If, as it appears to one and all, there is political responsibility that needs to be carried and legal and administrative changes that need to be made, none of those would be the product of a magisterial inquiry because the terms of reference of a magisterial inquiry are determined by law and they are exclusively restricted to the criminal realm.
  2. Whatever time it takes a magisterial inquiry to be concluded is irrelevant for the commencement of prosecutions if, as the prime minister seems to suggest, it is clear who is criminally responsible for what. The magistrate has nothing to do with that. The police can arrest and arraign immediately. The attorney general can commence prosecution. The prime minister didn’t write to either of those. He wrote to the judiciary betting the judiciary would never reply and would leave him the first and last word.
  3. Whatever the prime minister says in the letter about the magistrate having had enough time to conclude the inquiry, he knows he is talking bullshit. Inquiries into unlawful deaths take much longer than the time since Jean Paul Sofia was killed. I’m not saying that’s a good thing. I’m saying it’s a true thing. Magistrates are part-time authors of inquiry reports. They are full time judges of lower courts. The system is designed to force these delays and magistrates (and the chief justice) do not have the power to change that. The prime minister, on the other hand, does. He can go to Parliament and change the laws and make the function of compiling evidence of crimes a full-time job so that maybe we can get results quicker.
  4. Jean Paul Sofia’s mother’s aspirations are greater than Robert Abela makes them out to be. She has repeatedly (and admirably) said that quite beyond any criminal consequence for those directly responsible for the killing of her son, she wants his death to save the lives of others in future. She wants his death to cause change. Change is only possible if the facts emerge publicly. Magisterial inquiries are secret. Their outcome is secret correspondence with the attorney general and only the attorney general can decide what happens with their contents. If the attorney general decides to bury that evidence, there is no way we can learn the lessons we need to learn from it. A secret magisterial inquiry, therefore, does not substitute a public inquiry.
  5. The power to order a public inquiry sits squarely with the prime minister. Anyone can write a letter to the chief justice to complain things are taking too long. God knows anyone who’s ever had anything to do with our judicial system has good reason to complain about the interminable meandering before decisions are taken. But the prime minister is not anyone. He has powers most of us don’t, including the power at law to order an inquiry and to order it is conducted in public. The fact he doesn’t is his decision for which he is responsible. Maybe he can write himself a letter of complaint.

Some might ask, as some have, if we are going to have a public inquiry every time someone dies prematurely because of an accident at work. Some might ask, as some have, if we’re going to have pictures and candles of victims of accidents at work placed in prominent public places every time a fatality occurs? Isn’t this all a bit excessive? Or as the Labour Party put it yesterday, shamelessly, though only implicitly, slandering Jean Paul Sofia’s mother, are we going to have partisan profiteering at the government’s expense every time someone dies?

Under normal circumstances, perhaps not. But the prime minister’s letter unwittingly underlines the reason why the abnormality of the situation requires what some might argue are abnormal remedies.

The fact that the prime minister wrote to the chief justice underlines the fact that the prime minister fully expects the public to agree that the judicial system is dysfunctional. He would want the public to blame mute and largely faceless judges for that fact. He wouldn’t want to have to share in the responsibility of the gross institutional failure (for which, of course, he is responsible).

But it doesn’t really matter whose fault it is if we are all agreeing that the judicial system is dysfunctional.

Relatives of victims of unlawful deaths have no reason to have any confidence that what should have been done to avoid the deaths of their loved ones was done, let alone the confidence that after their loved ones died those responsible – criminally and politically – are made to suffer the consequence of their negligence or wilful complicity.

No one – not even, ex admissis, the prime minister – believes that we have a system that works.

That’s why it is necessary to have pictures and candles and flowers on the doorstep of Castille until someone independent of the government is hired to openly investigate the causes of Jean Paul Sofia’s death and fearlessly apportion responsibility for those causes.

This is how we get change. Some of those victims who have suffered more than most from the consequences of corruption and administrative failure – the people whose mothers and sons were killed by corruption and administrative failure – return the favour slapped on them by this ungrateful society by campaigning to make life better for all of us. They work to prevent us from suffering loss on the scale that they have.

When they have every right to wallow in grief and demand compensation, they instead take on alone and in the very sight of the public the arrogant tyranny that comes down the steps of Castille at night to throw away the picture of the child that they lost. They stand tall while the state attempts to kill Jean Paul Sofia again.