A magisterial inquiry into the government's transfer of three hospitals to Vitals Global Healthcare cannot go ahead until an appeal filed by three ministers opposing it is over, a judge ruled on Wednesday.

Mr Justice Giovanni Grixti said that although a fourth man mentioned in the proceedings had not appealed, the case was one and the same for all four, and having it go ahead before the appeal was decided would therefore prejudice the other three.

The ruling was handed down following a request by the court registrar for a copy of the acts of the case.

The request for an inquiry had been made by the civil society NGO Repubblika, which said that a magistrate should establish if there was criminal complicity by Finance Minister Edward Scicluna, Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi, Economy Minister Chris Cardona and Ivan Vassallo, owner of a medical supplies firm, in the transfer of St Luke's, Karin Grech and Gozo hospitals to Vitals Global Healthcare.

Magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit had accepted the request. The three ministers quickly filed an appeal seeking to revoke that ruling.  The fourth suspect, Ivan Vassallo, did not appeal, meaning that the decree was now binding in his regard.

Two weeks down the line, with the inquiry not having started, the NGO filed a judicial protest calling on the Registrar of the Criminal Courts to assign the inquiry without further delay.

The registrar then requested a copy of the acts of the case for the purpose of assigning the inquiry regarding Mr Vassallo by lot in terms of law.

Mr Justice Grixti turned down the registrar’s request.

The judge said that although Magistrate Stafrace Zammit had concluded that all necessary requisites for the inquiry against the four suspects had been met, once three had appealed the inquiry could not go ahead against the fourth man alone.

Conducting an inquiry against that person alone (Ivan Vassallo) “would inevitably touch upon aspects contested by the other three since it was one and the same case,” Mr Justice Grixti said.

The three ministers were right in objecting to the registrar’s request, observed the court. Handing over the acts requested “would defeat the whole purpose of their appeal. Their request to revoke the magistrate’s decree would have been in vain.”

“It is within the duties of this court to do all it deems appropriate and opportune to administer justice not only to the best of its abilities but also in terms of law in line with the principles of the rule of law,” Mr Justice Grixti declared.

His decree effectively means that while the inquiry against Mr Vassallo may be assigned to a magistrate in terms of law, it will not likely take off without the necessary documents currently held by the court presiding over the ministers’ appeal.

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