The Malta Independent 25 May 2024, Saturday
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TMIS Editorial: Another damning court judgment

Sunday, 14 April 2024, 10:00 Last update: about 2 months ago

A court judgment delivered a few days ago, once again, has placed the government in a tight corner. But don’t expect anything to change. The government will march on as if nothing has happened, sweeping the growing mound of rubbish under the carpet.

Robert Abela will keep on fiddling while Malta burns. He does not even want to say when we are to expect a new media law, which has been in the making for years. What is he waiting for? We’re not even close to a white paper.

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In the meantime, other failures on other equally important matters have been highlighted in another court judgment, similar is strength to the ones which were delivered last year on the hospitals’ deal.

Last Wednesday, Mr Justice Lawrence Mintoff turned down a request by Yorgen Fenech, the man accused of being a mastermind in the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2017. Fenech wanted the court to remove leading investigator Keith Arnaud from the investigation, claiming that his (Fenech’s) rights were being violated because of what he described as the officer’s conflict of interest.

The 155-page court judgment rejected the argument, ruling that Arnaud had acted in an “upright and correct” manner.

But the judgment goes far beyond this. It said that there was, yes, conflict of interest, but one which did not involve Arnaud.

There was conflict of interest, the court said, when former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri attended briefings related to the case at a time when he had a “fraternal friendship” with Fenech. The court also describes Schembri as the “factotum” (once) and “alter ego” (twice) of former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.

There was also conflict of interest, the court ruled, when former police commissioner Lawrence Cutajar, without informing the investigative team, met Edwin Brincat, a paternal figure to middleman Melvin Theuma, during which they listened to and discussed Theuma’s recordings, an essential part of the evidence.

The court was so disgusted by such behaviour that it goes on to recommend that the legislator – meaning the government – should actively consider enacting laws that classify such glaring conflicts of interest as “serious criminal offences that should be harshly punished”. This should be especially so in cases where such instances could hinder police investigations and the gathering of evidence. The court specifically mentioned the gravity of having a potential conflict of interest which involved people in high places such as the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff and the police commissioner.

We’re not holding our breath here, as the government has consistently shown that it does not (want to) listen when such proposals are made. We all know that the recommendations that were listed in the report compiled by the board of inquiry that investigated Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination are gathering dust on a shelf.

The court has also suggested that the presence of politicians should be kept to a minimum in cases where presidential pardons are being discussed. The judge recommended that evaluations should be on a technical level, and it would be better that no political intervention takes place, pointing out that Malta has a history of presidential pardons which had a strong political interference, but which “not always” had a positive outcome.

The court also highlighted what it described as “institutional deficiencies”, including the “continuous leaks” of information which could have had a “devastating effect on the people’s confidence in the police force, and its image and credibility”. The court went one step further by saying that there is clear proof as to who was responsible for these leaks, and for these to be charged with these offences in court.

Again, we’re not holding our breath here. The culture of impunity that has existed for the last decade will not change overnight.

Last Wednesday’s judgement is yet another blow to the country’s institutions – at least, some of them. But there is a lack of willingness on the government’s part to take the action that is needed to improve the situation. Time and again we (and by this we mean the people who are not blinded by partisan politics and who see things as they truly are) have been let down by institutions that have failed to carry out their duties properly.

We have also been let down by the government which, time and again, has defended the indefensible. It has defended institutions that did not function as they should and, as we all know, institutions are made up of people, and therefore the government was defending people who did not perform in the country’s best interests. And it has defended, and continues to defend, politicians and former politicians within its fold, and others who were close to them, in spite of their individual and collective shortcomings.

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