A court on Thursday upheld a request by former Opposition leader Simon Busuttil for a case involving the Panama Papers not to be heard by Mr Justice Antonio Mizzi because of a conflict of interest stemming from the fact that that the judge's wife is a Labour MP.
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 had 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.
The first hall of the civil court in its constitutional jurisdiction upheld his requests on Thursday and ordered that the case be assigned to another judge.
In its decision, the court said that the fact that the judge was married to an MEP, on its own, did not put the judge's impartiality in doubt, but when it was coupled with the comments made by Ms Mizzi on the Panama Papers, it gave rise to serious doubt about justice being seen to be done.
Dr Jason Azzopardi, who assisted Dr Busuttil, requested that should any appeal be filed, the normal terms ought to be shortened.
“This case is about a magisterial inquiry which must be decided urgently,” Dr Azzopardi remarked.
However, counsel to the respondents objected, pointing out that normal terms were to stand so as to safeguard the right to a fair hearing.
After hearing the arguments of both parties and after taking note of Rules of Court, the court said that in case of an appeal by any of the parties, the normal terms prescribed by law were to stand, namely 20 days from judgment.
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