Updated 3pm

A magistrate drawn to hear the compilation of evidence against Daphne Caruana Galizia murder suspect Yorgen Fenech will abstain from the case.

The case has now been handed to magistrate Rachel Montebello and will resume on December 11, sources told Times of Malta. 

Magistrate Nadine Lia decided to abstain on Wednesday morning, shortly after she postponed the first hearing in the compilation of evidence against Mr Fenech. 

Both Mr Fenech and the Caruana Galizia family had objected to the magistrate hearing the case, due to her family ties to Paul Lia, who is the personal lawyer of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. Dr Lia is the magistrate's father-in-law.

Mr Fenech was due to appear before magistrate Nadine Lia at 9am for the start of the compilation of evidence process against him.

But parties were informed on Wednesday morning that the magistrate had decided to postpone the first sitting to a later date.  

A short while later, the magistrate issued a decree explaining her reasons for abstaining. 

The magistrate noted that none of the parties had claimed that she had acted or intended to act “with personal bias”.

But in the light of case law and since a number of potential witnesses in the compilation worked for the Prime Minister, who was previously assisted by her father-in-law, her continuing to hear the case would cast doubt on it. 

Justice was not only to be done, but had to be seen to be done, she said. 

Mr Fenech was inside the court building at the time. Outside, heavily-armed officers accompanied by sniffer dogs checked nearby vehicles for explosives. Relatives of Ms Caruana Galizia's were also present, waiting for the courtroom to be opened. 

Heavy security outside the court building. Photo: Chris Sant FournierHeavy security outside the court building. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Mr Fenech was charged with complicity in Ms Caruana Galizia's murder last Saturday. He is pleading not guilty to the charges he is facing. 

Magistrate Lia was chosen by lot. 

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