The board investigating whether Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder could have been avoided has indicated that it intends to carry on with its work even if it goes beyond the December deadline laid down by the prime minister.

A clause in the inquiry board’s terms of reference that established a nine-month deadline came with a proviso about “the proper fulfilment” of the terms, the board pointed out on Thursday.

Last month, Prime Minister Robert Abela told the board he was granting it a one-time deadline extension to December 15, after the COVID-19 pandemic caused a delay.

In response to questions, the board told Times of Malta that it had never said it would not complete its work on time but had requested the extension to make up for the three-month lag during the partial lockdown.

“Should the three-month extension not be enough, the board could, but not necessarily will, make reference to clause 8,” the board said.

Clause 8 reads: “The Board of Inquiry shall endeavour to conclude its work within a time frame of nine months without prejudice to the proper fulfilment of these terms of reference.” It was replying to a specific question on whether it would go ahead with the collection of evidence for as long as required, beyond December 15, in order to be able to reach a proper conclusion on its mandate.

The panel, made up of Judge Michael Mallia, Judge Abigail Lofaro and former ombudsman and chief justice emeritus Joseph Said Pullicino, is investigating whether any state entity might have facilitated or failed to prevent the assassination.

It was formed last year following mounting pressure from European bodies like the Council of Europe. It began its work last December, just before Yorgen Fenech was arrested in connection with the murder, and was meant to conclude its work within nine months. It would then draw up a report and present it to the prime minister and attorney general.

Caruana Galizia’s family were heavily critical of the prime minister’s decision to set a December 15 deadline for completion of its work and filed a submission to the state-appointed board insisting that the terms of reference were clear.

“It is within the state-appointed board’s remit, and not the government’s, to decide when its work is complete,” the family said.

“If the board decides it needs more time to fulfil its remit, the deadline of the public inquiry is automatically extended.”

Imposing restrictions on the board, they argued, would amount to a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The board did not reply to questions about the accusations made by Labour MP and government whip Glenn Beddingfield – that the inquiry had become politicised.

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