Members of the judiciary feel “irked and hurt” by comments made by senior officials following the publication of the hospitals' inquiry.

Sources close to members of one of the four pillars of democracy say the attacks amounted to “political influence” in their work.

Such comments tarnished their collective reputation and placed undue pressure to do their work without fear or favour, as they swore when they took their oath of office.

The sources said the accusations that an extremely complex magisterial inquiry was deliberately concluded to coincide with an election was “farcical”.

This was the sentiment expressed by sources close to the judiciary who spoke to Times of Malta this week following repeated attacks in the aftermath of the Vitals magisterial inquiry, which led to criminal charges being filed against former prime minister Joseph Muscat, among others.

Prime Minister Robert Abela and his predecessor heavily criticised the magisterial inquiry that triggered criminal charges against top political figures, including Keith Schembri,  Konrad Mizzi, Chris Fearne and  Edward Scicluna.

They all face charges ranging from money laundering to corruption and fraud.

Abela repeatedly claimed that magistrate Gabriella Vella deliberately delayed the conclusions to time it with the European Parliament and local council elections, that the inquiry was biased and that sections of the judiciary were part of an “establishment” that was out to destroy the Labour Party.

He insists that the inquiry, which was meant to be completed within 60 days, took four-and-a-half years and the conclusions were delivered to the attorney general on the day the nominations opened for the European Parliament and council elections.

His comments have sparked widespread criticism and earned him a rebuke from NGOs, who described his comments as “authoritarian” and a “threat to democracy”.

Muscat waged a court battle to have Magistrate Vella removed from continuing the inquiry.

Among others, he complained about comments made by her relatives on social media which the magistrate classified as freedom of expression.

The sources said: “I can assure you judges and magistrates have enough on their plate to stay waiting for the right time to conclude an inquiry like this. We’ve heard how the court experts cost the state €11 million.

“That goes to show how difficult and complex this inquiry was,” the sources said.

They continued: “This is pure political pressure. Can you imagine what effect this could have on members of the judiciary who must decide such cases? Disagreeing with a court judgment or conclusion is one thing but attacking it and accusing some members of the judiciary of being out to damage the party in government is dangerous.”

“We’ve heard the mantra ‘let the institutions work’. Now is the time to put that into practice,” the sources continued.

Case to be heard in largest hall

Meanwhile, logistical preparations are under way to find a courtroom that could accommodate all the people featured on the charge sheets, as well as their relatives, members of the media covering the case, and members of the public who would want to follow the proceedings.

Legal sources said the plan is to use Hall 22 – the largest courtroom also known as the trial courtroom since it is the venue where trials by jury take place.

The hall, the only one with a gallery, is the only courtroom that could be used for such a case.

The media and the public can follow proceedings from the balcony so that the space downstairs can be used to accommodate the defendants, their teams of lawyers, prosecutors, and any party to the case, which could amount to 60 or 70 people.

According to a rough calculation by Times of Malta, those involved in the case, including lawyers and defendants, could amount to around 60 or 70 people.

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