The Malta Independent 21 January 2018, Sunday

Daphne's murder: Magistrate accepts request for recusal, case to be reassigned

Thursday, 14 December 2017, 08:59 Last update: about 2 months ago

Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech accepted a request by the defence to recuse herself from hearing the compilation of evidence in the case against three suspects accused of murdering journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Brothers Alfred Degiorgio and George Degiorgio, and Vince Muscat, pleaded not guilty to the car bomb murder on October 16.

They requested the magistrate to be replaced after she declared that she was in the same class with one of the journalist's sisters as well as having recently exchanged condolences at the loss of a loved one. The sitting was suspended for about two hours until the magistrate gave her ruling, accepting the request made by the defence.

The accused are represented by legal aid Benjamin Valenzia, Martin Fenech and Francine Abela, while Therese Comodini Cachia is appearing parte civile for the Caruana Galizia family.

Photos/video James Caruana

12.36pm: Sitting is adjourned.

12.34pm: Magistrate accepts requests from defence to give up case, will ask court registrar for case to be assigned to another magistrate. She is citing multiple judgments to back up her decision. After all due considerations, the issue at hand is the appearance of prejudice, she said. The decision of recusal must be taken on the basis that there is an objective reason to call into question impartiality, or appearance thereof. 

12.25pm: Magistrate entered the courtroom.

12.05pm: Three accused brought back to court room.

10.10am: The sitting has been adjourned to noon.

10.06am: Legal aid Martin Fenech said that the argument that Malta is small and everyone knows everyone is not right because there must be one magistrate with zero connections with the victim and her family.

10.03am: Parte civile Therese Comodini Cachia said that Daphne Caruana Galizia was a very public person and that in this case the connection with the magistrate is not direct.

10.02am: Legal aids keep saying that justice must be seen to be done in the widest sense possible.

10am: The prosecution is arguing that the magistrate is not even denying on the merits of the case since this court’s remit is to gather evidence. The link is very weak and Philip Galea Farrugia argued that Peter Cariuana Galizia is a colleague and often in the court so any judge or magistrate could have easily offered condolences, “Malta is small, there is no direct link, this court is not deciding on the merits of the case, so I do not agree with defense argument”

9.54am: Magistrate asked how the link will effect fair hearing so that she can decide on recusal. Legal aid Fenech repeated that justice must not just be done but be seen to be done. “Suspects must feel comfortable on whoever they are being presided over. If there could be some kind of ramification because of this link, the accused should have peace of mind that nothing will impinge on the court’s decision”

9.51am: Suspects feel that there is a link which they described as ‘closeness’, a description to which magistrate objected. Legal aid Francine Abela said that it is not about them being in class thirty years ago, but the exchange of condolences which makes the defense uncomfortable.

9.50am: Defence is requesting magistrate is replaced as the suspects feel ‘uncomfortable’ with the link. Legal aid Benjamin Valenzia said that they would like to avoid fair hearing issues down the line.

9.49am: Legal aids are making a joint verbal statement: after consulting with suspects they wish that the magistrate is changed in light of the declaration. Legal aid Marin Fenech said that justice must not just be done but must be seen to be done. 

9.48am: Prosecution Philip Galea Farrugia declared it has no objection with Magistrate Donatella hearing the case.

9.40am: Magistrate declared that she used to be in the same class as one of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s sisters. They used to wish each other happy birthday and after they both lost a family member in the same week they exchanged condolences. The sitting is suspended to allow the accused to discuss whether they feel this constitutes a conflict of interest.

9.37am: George Degiorgio confirmed that Benjamin Valenzia will be his legal aid. Dr Martin Fenech will be legal aid for Vince Muscat. Dr Francine Abela will be legal aid for Alfred Degiorgio.

9.35am: Magistrate Frendo Dimech  explained to the suspects that legal proceedings at this stage are not final, that it will be a jury that will ultimately decide and she urged them to use a lawyer.

9.30am: Suspects brought into the courtroom. Benjamin Valenzia is appeared as legal aid to George Degorgio. Therese Comodini Cachia is appearing as parte civile for the Caruana Galizia family.

8.50am: The three accused have arrived in court under heavy escort.

Daphne Caruana Galizia's husband Peter and her parents are present for the sitting.

 

Daphne murder compilation of evidence from The Malta Independent on Vimeo.

Accused have not spoken a word since arraignment

Police still investigating seven men

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