The Malta Independent 22 November 2019, Friday

Egrant case: Constitutional Court ‘not amused’ by ministers’ last-minute application

Monday, 14 October 2019, 14:47 Last update: about 2 months ago

Three judges presiding the Constitutional Court have told a lawyer representing ministers Chris Cardona, Edward Scicluna and Konrad Mizzi that it was “not amused” by a last-minute application to not have the ministers testify today in a case filed by the Leader of the Opposition.

Chief Justice Joseph Azzopardi, Mr Justice Giannino Caruana Demajo and Mr Justice Noel Cuschieri presided the sitting in a case filed by PN leader Adrian Delia for the publication of the 1500 page Egrant report.

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The ministers had been summoned to testify about how an unpublished extract of the top secret Egrant report ended up being quoted by them in court submissions on the Vitals inquiry. They had filed an application to be exempted from testimony last week.

“You had all summer to present it and you presented it at the last minute…You are not a new graduate lawyer, you have certain experience…even out of respect to the parties,” Chief Justice Joseph Azzopardi admonished lawyer Aaron Mifsud Bonnici.

Mifsud Bonnici explained that the pending proceedings before the Criminal Court could impinge on the proceedings, hence the delay.

He argued that his clients were within their rights not to exhibit it. “This side is saying you cannot oblige a person to exhibit the document…it is not right to exhibit the document due to its content.”

Mifsud Bonnici argued that that the ministers need not testify at all, because of the criminal proceedings and pending inquiry.

Chief Justice Azzopardi suggested that the public part of the inquiry be compared with what the ministers had said to see if they tallied, but lawyer Vincent Galea, appearing for Opposition Leader Adrian Delia was having none of it: “If they tell us that they have a copy of the inquiry, it’ll solve everything,” he quipped.

The Chief Justice said he could not force them to present a copy if there were valid reasons.

“Where will it end?” asked Mifsud Bonnici. “The principle of exhibiting part of the inquiry sets a precedent,” he began, but was interrupted by Galea: “It was on the newspapers. All Malta has a copy!”

Attorney General Peter Grech submitted that one could not be forced to testify about something which one could not exhibit.

Galea shot this down again. “The AG is asking to revise the court’s decree, which he had objected to and was overruled.”

“Section 518 mentioned by the AG applies to documents…it is a basic point from law school…a certain content of documents. But it is taken from the public part of the inquiry which was published in the newspapers. So if the document was secret, this no longer applies, because we’d be saying that there is such a document.”

“First the Prime Minister said it was only the AG who had a copy, then it emerged that the justice minister had one, then lawyer Pawlu Lia, then Kurt Farrugia, then these three ministers,” fumed the lawyer, asking where the country’s checks and balances were.

“The quotation from Egrant can be used in other proceedings to limit access. There is discrimination because everyone in the Labour Party has access to it and nobody else.”

The Chief Justice once again said that he didn’t see a reason to have the ministers testify because a comparison of written and what was said could be carried out instead, but Galea stood his ground.

“I want a declaration from the ministers to the effect that they took it from Egrant.”

The government has this inquiry and the Attorney General continues to defend him, said the lawyer. “We now have three ministers with access,” he continued.

The court put the case off for 18th November, saying it would give a decree on the ministers’ request not to testify, from chambers.

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