Robert Abela has called out magistrates responsible for “unacceptable” delays in concluding inquiries, using the death of 20-year-old Jean Paul Sofia as a case in point. 

During a sharply worded speech in parliament on Monday evening, the prime minister noted that, three months after Sofia’s death in a construction site collapse in Corradino, the initial stages of an inquiry into the incident have not yet been concluded.  

“The procès-verbal is not wrapped up, and nobody has been charged,” Abela said.

The procès-verbal is a report on the findings of a magisterial inquiry, that is then presented in court as part of the compilation of evidence against anyone charged with a crime on the basis of that inquiry's findings.

Abela referred to the construction site accident as he praised retired judge Joe Zammit McKeon, who was unanimously approved by parliament to become Ombudsman on Monday. 

Prime Minister Robert Abela in Parliament on Monday.

Abela noted that in his 12 years as a judge, McKeon had issued 2,106 court sentences. 

“That is a case for every two days,” he said. 

“It is important for current members of the judiciary to note this statistic, particularly inquiring magistrates," Abela continued. 

He then referenced the Corradino collapse indirectly, without naming the site or Sofia by name. 

"Particularly when a serious accident led to a death, and today, three months after, and with no end in sight, there is no procès-verbal wrapped up and nobody has been charged."

Sofia was found in the rubble of the Corradino site after a 16-hour-long search. Five others were seriously injured in the incident. Magistrate Marse-Ann Farrugia is leading the inquiry into his death.

Sofia’s family has pushed for a public inquiry into his death – a call endorsed by the Opposition PN but which Abela and the ruling Labour Party have so far resisted.

On Sunday, Opposition leader, Bernard Grech said the party will be tabling a motion in Parliament calling for a public inquiry in the days to come. 

While a magisterial inquiry can shed light on failings or crimes committed, it is not the only path criminal justice can take: the police, who are responsible for investigating cases themselves, can charge people with crimes before magisterial inquiries are concluded.

The delay in concluding an inquiry into the Corradino collapse is unfortunately not unusual: in January, Times of Malta revealed that 87 magisterial inquiries into workplace deaths or injuries dating back to 2015 remain pending.

Abela's pressure on the judiciary

Abela's critique of the slow pace of judicial inquiries builds on a series of other criticisms he has made of the law courts in recent months. 

Earlier this year, he said the courts should issue harsher sentences for repeat offenders, saying a violent assault in Valletta had left him feeling it was not safe for his daughter to walk in the capital's streets at night. 

And last month, the prime minister blamed the courts for a decision to allow convicted murderer George Degiorgio out on temporary prison leave. A Times of Malta fact-check concluded that it was ultimately the prison director's prerogative to allow Degiorgio out. 

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