Former chief of staff Keith Schembri has filed a constitutional application claiming that his fundamental rights to a fair hearing were breached when members of the Public Accounts Committee asked the police to investigate him for perjury.

He complained that he had been refused every opportunity to safeguard his rights, including requesting a ruling by the Speaker to suspend his testimony.

The application, before the First Hall, Civil Court in its constitutional jurisdiction, was filed against Nationalist MPs Darren Carabott, David Agius and Graham Bencini.

The three PN MPs last week called at police headquarters and handed in a letter asking the police to investigate Schembri as well as former minister Edward Scicluna and former police assistant commissioner Silvio Valletta, saying that at least one of them had lied when conflicting evidence was given to the committee.

In his recent testimony, Schembri rubbished Scicluna’s suggestion of a “kitchen cabinet” that operated outside of cabinet, saying that Scicluna would have been involved in all major decisions in his role as Finance Minister.

The evidence was in relation to the contract awarded by the government to Electrogas for the construction of the power station.

On Tuesday, Schembri refused to continue to answer questions before the committee saying he would first await the outcome of the investigation against him triggered by the three Opposition members. 

On Thursday, his lawyers described the three MPs’ behaviour as a “political stunt” which, they said, ridiculed such an important institution as the PAC.

They said that the three Opposition members on the committee had a conflict of interest since they requested the criminal investigation against the person whose testimony they were hearing. And that testimony was still ongoing.

Moreover, when Schembri sought a ruling from the Speaker to suspend his testimony pending the outcome of police investigations, his attempts were blocked by the same three members who, rather than abstain from the discussion, denied him every opportunity to seek a remedy to safeguard his rights.

The Committee chair had stated that he was to refer the matter to the Speaker for a possible reference to the Privileges Committee.

That meant that if Schembri were found guilty of any breach in terms of the House of Representatives (Privileges and Powers) Ordinance, he risked being reprimanded or else faced a maximum jail term of 6 months and a maximum fine of €1,164.69.

Citing Erskine May on parliamentary procedure, the lawyers pointed out that “principles of natural justice, which require that every person should have a fair and impartial hearing, are observed in parliamentary inquiries.”

The Standing Orders of the House did not preclude a witness before a parliamentary committee from seeking a ruling by the Speaker to protect his rights and if that were so, any such prohibition breached the applicant’s rights.

Those principles applied “to everyone and in all fora,” they argued, adding that the three MPs had abused their privileged position of power by requesting criminal investigations against someone who was testifying before them without even consulting the rest of the committee members or taking a vote. 

Such “very particular and probably unprecedented circumstances” had placed Schembri in an “anomalous position,” his lawyers claimed, requesting the court to declare that Schembri’s fundamental right to a fair hearing has been breached. 

The lawyers also requested the court to order Schembri’s testimony before the PAC to be suspended pending the outcome of the criminal investigation triggered by the three MPs as well as any other measures deemed necessary by the court.

The case was also filed against the State Advocate and the Speaker.

Lawyers Edward Gatt and Mark Vassallo signed the application. 

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