Lawyers representing the families in criminal proceedings against four men linked to the murders of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia and lawyer Carmel Chircop cannot cross-examine witnesses summoned by the prosecution, a court has ruled.

Madam Justice Edwina Grima delivered a decree after the lawyers sought to revoke a decision taken by the magistrate presiding over the compilation of evidence against brothers, Robert and Adrian Agius, Jamie Vella and George Degiorgio. They are facing charges of involvement in the murders of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2017 and lawyer Carmel Chircop in 2015.

The decree effectively means that lawyers representing the two families cannot put direct or leading questions to prosecution witnesses.

The court said that although the victims' families should be actively represented in the proceedings, that role has to be exercised “within a framework of procedural rules” and is "not absolute, without any limitation or regulation.”  

The victims’ lawyers had every right to ask all questions they deemed fit, as long as they were not leading questions, limiting themselves to facts emerging during the examination said the judge.

In the earlier decree, Magistrate Caroline Farrugia Frendo had said that in terms of procedural law, parte civile lawyers could not cross-examine prosecution witnesses.

But lawyers Jason Azzopardi and Vincent Galea, representing the Caruana Galizia and Chircop families respectively, filed an application to the Criminal Court seeking to revoke that decree.

Such a decision, they said, would deny them the right to put “a single direct question,”  adding that as parte civile they could only actively participate at the compilation of evidence stage when generally, witnesses were only summoned by the prosecution.

Once the case proceeded to trial after the issuing of the bill of indictment, parte civile lawyers had no further say in the proceedings, the families’ lawyers added.

But defence lawyers countered that the parte civile lawyers were simply trying to appeal a magistrate’s decree when such appeal was not permissible at law.

Madam Justice Grima on Wednesday observed that although the victims’ lawyers could actively participate in the criminal proceedings, they were neither part of the prosecution nor the defence.

Their role was to support the charges but the burden of proving those charges beyond reasonable doubt rested solely upon the prosecution.

And cross-examination was reserved to the opposite side which, in case of witnesses summoned by the prosecution, was the defence, the court said.

Lawyers Alfred Abela and Rene’ Darmanin assist the Agius brothers and Vella while lawyer William Cuschieri assists Degiorgio.

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