Pre-trial proceedings for three men charged with the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia again got off to a false start on Monday morning, when a new magistrate assigned to the case abstained herself from it.
Magistrate Charmaine Galea followed where magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech left off last week and said she would not hear the compilation of evidence against the three accused, on the grounds that Ms Caruana Galizia had mentioned her in blog posts concerning Labour Party appointees to the judiciary.
Defence lawyers for Degiorgio brothers Alfred (il-Fulu) and George (iċ-Ċiniz) and Vince Muscat (il-Koħħu) said this was grounds for recusal, prompting an instant retort from lawyer Jason Azzopardi, appearing parte civile, who noted that according to the law, the compilation of evidence against the three men had to be completed within 30 days of them being charged.
Read: Data may point to brothers' involvement in murder case
These requests for recusal, Dr Azzopardi said, were simply an attempt to waste time and ensure justice was not done.
But the magistrate did not see it that way. Citing European Court of Human Rights judgments, she said that her recusal would not jeopardise the case, and abstained from it.
The three men were charged with murder on December 5 - meaning the compilation of evidence against them must be completed by January 4 if they are not to be conditionally discharged. According to Maltese law, only the President can extend that 30-day timeframe.
Last week, Magistrate Frendo Dimech recused herself from the case after defence lawyers said that her distant relationship with one of Ms Caruana Galizia's sisters - the two were classmates in 1983 - made the accused uncomfortable and could cast a shadow on proceedings.
The three accused were arrested on December 4, when police and army officers conducted a series of raids across Malta. 10 men were arrested during those raids - seven were subsequently released on police bail, without charge.
Live updates from the courtroom
10am That's it from court - thank you for following this live blog.
9.55am Two magistrates are out, with 20 to go - and that 30-day clock began ticking on December 5, when the three men were charged in court. We're now 13 days into that period.
9.45am The law states that people accused of a crime must be taken through pre-trial proceedings within 30 days of being charged. Only the president can extend that timeframe. If they do not do so, they are conditionally discharged.
9.42am The accused, who did not utter a single word, are cuffed once again and the legal teams begin filing out of the courtroom.
We're back to square one, yet again.
9.40am She refers to European Court of Human Rights judgements and says she does not agree that her recusal would jeopardise the case from ever being heard. Justice must be done, but also seen to be done.
Magistrate Galea abstains from the case.
9.38am Magistrate Galea reads out her decree.
9.34am To recap: magistrate Charmaine Galea began the session by stating that Ms Caruana Galizia had mentioned her in a few blog posts decrying Labour Party appointments to the bench. That prompted the defence to immediately say this was grounds for recusal - something Jason Azzopardi, appearing parte civile, immediately pushed back against, saying the defence was just trying to run out the clock.
9.32am In the meantime, here are a couple of links to blog posts in which Ms Caruana Galizia had mentioned magistrate Galea.
9.30am The court is now allowing time for the decree to be written up. It's dead silent - the only sound in the room is that of the court official typing away.
9.25am Dr Azzopardi insists he's not pressuring the court...and within seconds it all descends into a shouting match between himself and Dr Fenech.
This isn't parliament, Dr Fenech tells Dr Azzopardi. "Let's avoid theatrics here."
Things calm down and Dr Azzopardi continues speaking. To ignore the seriousness of the case and time constraints involved would be to trivialise the entire case, he says.
Ms Caruana Galizia "never, never" wrote anything disrespectful about the magistrate, he says - something that the magistrate herself pointed out to the defence.
9.22am Defence lawyer Martin Fenech reacts to Dr Azzopardi's statement. He takes issue with the latter saying the "court can't be manipulated by those who seek to evade justice" and his talk of a "perversion of justice".
Not allowing the court to recuse itself is in itself pressure on the judiciary and an injustice in itself, he says. All members of the judiciary must be free to do so, Dr Fenech says, calling Dr Azzopardi's choice of words "excessive".
9.20am Let's set the scene: the courtroom is the same one used for last week's hearing, and it's packed. Ms Caruana Galizia's mother, father and sister are sitting behind the accused. Her husband Peter is seated behind the prosecution.
9.17am Jason Azzopardi is not impressed with this immediate development, and tells the court not to allow itself to be manipulated by those who seek to avoid justice. Court rules dictate that the compilation of eivdence must begin within a 30-day timeframe, he notes. Magistrate Galea should hear the case, he says - society is looking to the judiciary to have a backbone and deliver justice.
9.13am Magistrate Galea has just read out a statement saying Daphne Caruana Galizia had written about her nomination to the bench and linked it to her closeness of the government of the day.
Right off the bat, defence lawyer Martin Fenech says there are grounds for the magistrate to recuse herself. Prosecutors disagree and say that rules do not require a recusal for political matters "that everyone has links to in some way or another."
Is this going to be a repeat of last week's proceedings?
9.10am The three accused men are in the courtroom, with proceedings expected to begin within minutes.
George Deogiorgio is being represented by Benjamin Valencia, with his brother Alfred having Francine Abela as a lawyer and Vince Muscat defended by Martin Fenech.
Lawyers Jason Azzopardi and Therese Comodini Cachia are also present, appearing parte civile.
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