The Malta Independent 30 May 2020, Saturday

Attorney General ‘concerned’ by lawyer’s move to Yorgen Fenech’s legal team

Neil Camilleri & Rebekah Cilia Saturday, 9 May 2020, 07:29 Last update: about 20 days ago

Attorney General Peter Grech said he is concerned about the recent swapping of roles by a lawyer formerly under his employ who has joined Yorgen Fenech’s legal team within hours of resigning his post as a state prosecutor.

Earlier this week, lawyer Charles Mercieca joned Fenech’s legal counsel less than 24 hours after handing in his resignation from the AG’s office. Fenech is accused of being a mastermind in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

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Speaking to The Malta Independent, the Attorney General said it had been ascertained that Mercieca (photo below) had not been privy to any information related to the murder prosecution but said Mercieca’s move has caused “unnecessary disturbance” to the Office.

The young lawyer’s career change has led to a wave of anger, with the family of the murdered journalist calling for an inquiry. The Nationalist Party has demanded immediate explanations, while Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis has called the move “insensitive.”

Asked for a reaction, AG Peter Grech pointed out that every employee has a right to leave his employment and cannot be kept in forced labour.

“A lawyer working at the office is likely to leave to go and work elsewhere also as a lawyer. That is what he or she  is trained for.  However, when career moves give rise to  the kind of  unnecessary disturbance for  the Office as this move has produced then that is obviously a matter about which I am concerned,” he said.

This newspaper pointed out that the fact that Mercieca joined Fenech’s legal team just hours after resigning means that he was in contact with Fenech’s lawyers while he was still employed with the AG’s office. The Attorney General was asked whether there are any rules in place precluding employees of the AG's office from doing so and, if not, whether there are plans to introduce such rules.

“Applying for a job elsewhere or planning to set oneself up in private practice are not as such criminal or disciplinary offences or breaches of contract, but the facts of a particular case and the context could make a big difference,” Dr Grech said.

He pointed out that the Code of Ethics for Advocates and Legal Procurators employed with the Office of the Attorney General includes two clauses which are enforceable on a disciplinary level and which also form part of lawyers’ contracts.

The first clause states that, “Advocates and Legal Procurators in the Office of the Attorney General shall not solicit personal appointments or positions for themselves except as may be permitted by the Office of the Attorney General itself or by law.”

The second says that, “Advocates and Legal Procurators in the Office of the Attorney General should conduct their behaviour in communications outside the Office and their work with discernment and reserve, particularly with a view to avoiding the spreading of information that is prejudicial to the administration of criminal justice.”

The question on whether any such rule was breached “would of course depend on proof, and not on mere suspicion,” the AG continued.

Asked if it can be assured that Mercieca was not privy to any details of the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder case, the Attorney General said the office has “conducted a detailed” examination of the circumstances and can confirm that Mercieca, “apart from not having ever been assigned to work on the case, had no access to documents or meetings which could have revealed confidential investigation or prosecution strategies in the cases related to the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.”

Mercieca joined lawyers Gianluca Caruana Curran and Marion Camilleri in constitutional proceedings filed by Fenech against the Superintendent of Public Health and the State Advocate.

The lawyers have argued that the closure of the courts have breached their client's human rights. The courts were closed on 16 March in view of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Fenech, who was charged in connection with the murder in November of last year, triggering a political crisis, has made a number of attempts for bail, all of which have been denied.

The 17 Black owner, who had also attempted to secure a presidential pardon in return for information, has claimed that he had been receiving information about the investigation from former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri.

 

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