The Malta Independent 23 February 2024, Friday
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A public inquiry will not 'reveal anything different' from a magisterial inquiry - minister

Semira Abbas Shalan Wednesday, 19 April 2023, 11:57 Last update: about 11 months ago

A public inquiry will not reveal anything different than the magisterial inquiry into Jean Paul Sofia’s death, Justice Minister Jonathan Attard said on Tuesday.

Attard insisted with The Malta Independent that it is the still ongoing magisterial inquiry which will lead to effective justice for Sofia, saying that that is the strong message government is sending.

20-year-old Sofia was killed under the rubble of a construction building collapse in Corradino Industrial Estate last December.


Since then, nobody has been charged in connection with his death, and the government has been resisting calls for a public inquiry, on the basis that the magisterial inquiry into the case is still ongoing, for five months now.

There is, however, a fundamental difference between a magisterial and a public inquiry. A magisterial inquiry can only establish criminal responsibilities according to the country’s current laws. A public inquiry looks into the State’s responsibility under the Inquiries Act with the purpose of establishing information related to the conduct of public officers; the conduct or management of any government department;  any matter falling within the functions or responsibility of any such department or body, or otherwise concerning or affecting a service of the government.

The purpose of an independent inquiry is to look into the system and not to apportion criminal blame, and it is held in public. A magisterial inquiry is held behind closed doors, and the publication of the findings is at the discretion of the Attorney General. A public inquiry is, conversely, open to the media.

Sofia’s mother, Isabelle Bonnici, has herself appealed for the opening of a public inquiry, which would identify what led to the incident, and whether any amendments or new laws were needed so that tragic accidents are prevented.

Speaker of the House Anglu Farrugia refused a Nationalist Party motion to urgently discuss a public inquiry into the death last Monday. Sofia’s mother was handing out a letter to MPs as they walked into Parliament, appealing for the public inquiry.

Prime Minister Robert Abela had written to the Chief Justice over the “totally unacceptable” delays in the finalisation of the magisterial inquiry, appealing for the speedy conclusion of the inquiry.

When asked on Tuesday, Attard backed Abela when asked whether the executive should put pressure on the judiciary of ongoing cases.

“We have full confidence in the inquiring magistrate, and full faith in the inquiry itself,” Attard said.

He continued that the ones who do not have faith in the magisterial inquiry are the ones who are appealing for other forms of inquiries.

Attard said that government has ‘so much faith’ in the process of the inquiring magistrate, and it is appealing for the finalisation of the inquiry in the shortest time possible.

He said that the process of checks and balances goes both ways between the executive and the judiciary, mentioning the recent situation in Greece, whose rule of law is facing serious threats.

Attard said that Abela himself appealed to the Superior Courts to treat procedures tied with Greece in a speedy manner following a deadly train accidenrt earlier this year.

“This is a natural process, and not a practice which happens in Malta only,” he said.

Attard said that government is there for surveillance, scrutiny and decisions, but it does not mean that government should make appeals for expeditious work in the interests of the public. In this case, for the magisterial inquiry on Sofia’s death to be finalised, so justice is achieved.

“I agree with the approach the Prime Minister took to ensure that that particular incident, which took the life of a young man, is closed, so that effective justice is achieved in a reasonable time frame,” Attard said.

When pressed on the fact that Sofia’s mother has been appealing for a public inquiry for her son and other workplace deaths, Attard said that a public inquiry will not reveal anything different.

Attard said that government is different from the Opposition, who did not make a similar appeal for the inquiry to close in a speedy manner. He said that government will continue to believe in the process, in the inquiring magistrate, and will continue to appeal for the effective closure of the inquiry.

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