Nationalist MP and former Opposition leader Simon Busuttil insisted in court on Thursday that he had "no doubts" about the integrity of a judge married to a Labour Party MEP.

“I have no doubt whatsoever as to the integrity of Mr Justice Antonio Mizzi,” Dr Busuttil said when testifying in the constitutional case linked to the Panama Appeals saga.

“All I want is justice in the Panama case. I filed proceedings after the Prime Minister, the Commissioner of Police and the AG all failed to act,” Dr Busuttil said, pointing out that he had been trying to get an investigation going since July 2017. 

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, his chief of staff Keith Schembri and Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi, together with businessmen Brian Tonna, Karl Cini, Malcolm Scerri and Adrian Hillman, have each filed separate appeals against a magisterial decision to green light an inquiry in their regard.

Those appeals were assigned to Mr Justice Mizzi, prompting a challenge by Dr Busuttil on the grounds that the judge’s wife, Labour MEP Marlene Mizzi, had expressed her views on the Panama Papers scandal.

After Mr Justice Mizzi refused to accept the challenge, Dr Busuttil had filed a separate constitutional case claiming a violation of his right to a fair hearing and requesting that the appeals be assigned to a different member of the judiciary.

Busuttil explains his reasoning

Taking the witness stand this afternoon, Dr Busuttil went on to explain the reasons which prompted him to seek recourse before the civil courts.

He said that Mr Justice Mizzi's marriage to a Labour MEP was in itself sufficient grounds for recusal, even if Ms Mizzi had not openly expressed her views on the Panama issue. 

READ: Muscat refuses to get involved after Labour MEP slams Chief Justice

There was a community of acquests between the married couple, with the MEP earning a salary of some €100,000 annually. Consequently her husband had a financial interest, “as remote as that may be”, Dr Busuttil declared.

Secondly, Ms Mizzi had openly aired her views on the Panama Papers scandal not only when speaking in the European Parliament but also through several Facebook posts, in which she repeatedly made political arguments in favour of the Prime Minister and hit out against Dr Busuttil, even calling him “LOO”, an acronym for Leader of the Opposition.

In the course of the hearing, European Parliament official Anna Zammit presented in court a video recording and transcript of Ms Mizzi's speech to the EP plenary on June 14, 2017. 

One of Ms Mizzi's more recent Facebook outbursts, in which she had hit out at Chief Justice Silvio Camilleri in her husband's defence, further revealed the clear ties between the two, Dr Busuttil said. 

“She evidently speaks to her husband about his work,” Dr Busuttil said, further stressing the common understanding between the couple which justified his request for the Judge’s recusal.

Turning to the behaviour of Mr Justice Mizzi himself, Dr Busuttil voiced his concern over what he described as “an element of hostility” in his regard during the Panama appeals proceedings, the first two hearings of which had been held behind closed doors.

It was during the first such sitting that Mr Justice Mizzi had allegedly called Dr Busuttil and his lawyer, Jason Azzopardi, to the bench asking whether the comments made by Dr Busuttil in his regard “had been a slip of the tongue.”

“I interpreted this as a form of hostility,” Dr Busuttil explained, adding that he had repeated what he had asserted earlier.

There were earlier occasions when Judge Mizzi had recused himself when faced with similar circumstances, Dr Busuttil went on.

One of these involved a criminal appeal involving assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia when he had upheld the latter’s request and abstained from presiding over the case “so that justice could be seen to be done.”

A second case arose when retired Chief Justice Vincent DeGaetano had appeared parte civile before then-magistrate Antonio Mizzi who was being investigated by the Commission for the Administration of Justice over his role as President of the Malta Basketball Association at the time. The former Chief Justice had formed part of that investigation, thereby prompting magistrate Mizzi’s recusal, Dr Busuttil explained.

“My only interest is that of an ordinary citizen to ensure that justice is done,” Dr Busuttil concluded.

The case continues in April.

Mr Justice Joseph Zammit McKeon is presiding over the case.
Lawyer Jason Azzopardi is assisting the applicant.

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