A public inquiry would not only shed light on whether Daphne Caruana Galizia’s life could have been saved but also on whether vulnerable journalists and activists need protection, a Council of Europe’s legal affairs committee heard on Monday.

“Malta has the legislation to do so. It has a public enquiries act, it's flexible enough to include a national and international panel of judges and jurors who would have freedom to ensure that it is free from any influence,” Tony Murphy, lawyer for the Caruana Galizia family said.

Mr Murphy was testifying in a public hearing about the investigation into the assassination of Ms Caruana Galizia, who was killed by a car bomb a year ago.

Dutch MP Pieter Omtzigt has been tasked with drawing up a report about the murder and ensuing investigations.

Lawyers' calls for a public inquiry into Ms Caruana Galizia's murder came just hours after 25 media and human rights organisations in Malta and overseas collectively urged Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to allow an inquiry.   

Read: Prime Minister rules out public inquiry into Caruana Galizia murder

Earlier this year, the family’s lawyers said that if the government refused to open a public inquiry, they would commence legal proceedings in Malta and perhaps ultimately in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

On Monday, Mr Murphy said the Caruana Galizia family and its international team of lawyers did not believe that the current investigation into the assassination was compliant with the Right to Life enshrined in Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights .

Mr Murphy also raised concern that the investigation into her assassination could not be considered independent, as until the end of this summer it had been led by senior police officer Silvio Valletta, who together with his wife Minister Justyne Caruana, was subject of detailed and critical journalistic investigation by Ms Caruana Galizia.

The conspicuous disregard of Article 2 was prevalent at the highest level, as Prime Minister had supported deputy commissioner Valletta’s involvement in the investigation, he added.

Last week, a constitutional court ruled that Mr Valletta should play no part in the murder investigation.

Meanwhile, the lack of investigation into wider state complicity or collusion in the assassination was also a concern, he said, adding that not a single politician seems to have been interviewed by the magistrates one year after the assassination.

“Can there ever have been a death in Malta where it is more necessary to establish a public inquiry, to ensure that the full facts are brought to light, that culpable conduct is exposed… and that lessons are learnt in order to save the life of others?”

Addressing the same committee, barrister Jonathan Price meanwhile noted that Ms Caruana Galizia suffered significant harassment in the years prior to her assassination, related to her professional activities. She was also subjected to an onslaught of defamation proceedings, civil and criminal, while having her assets frozen. Many of the complainants were government officials.

Ms Caruana’s subjects included members of the police and judiciary – the very institutions charged with protecting her while she was alive, and now the same ones investigating her death, he said.

“We query whether it is appropriate for Malta to rely upon its regular investigative and judicial structures in a case of such gravity, complexity and sensitivity. 

"Furthermore, we suggest an investigation into whether a culture of impunity in relation to Ms Caruana Galizia had been engendered.”

If Malta really wanted to get to the bottom of who ordered the killing and why, and take steps to avoid that such a tragedy recurred, a suitable public inquiry should be initiated, he added.

The third expert on the panel - Jules Giraudat, International Co-ordinator of the Daphne Project - also questioned what gave rise to such impunity that would lead to the murder of a journalist in broad daylight.

Labour MP questions committee's impartiality

Speaking from the floor, Labour MP Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi expressed grave concern about murdered journalists in Europe, however, he also voiced concern about the impartiality of the hearing.

The government had employed all possible resources, including foreign law enforcement agencies, while a magisterial investigation led to the arraignment of three people, he said, adding that the case was still sub-judice.

Dr Zrinzo Azzopardi also noted that the three experts chosen for the hearing could not be deemed independent. He said the manner in which the process was being directed suggested it was biased from the outset.

The committee will meet again for a second hearing that includes the participation of Maltese officials and representatives of the Caruana Galizia family, as proposed by Mr Omtzigt himself.

The committee also agreed to seek the opinion of the Venice Commission about the appointment of judges in Malta.

Earlier Mr Omtzigt said that before being killed, Ms Caruana Galizia made allegations about serious misconduct by senior officials, including Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.

Concerns were compounded by Malta’s constitutional arrangements “that are hard to reconcile with the separation of powers”, in particular when it comes to the Prime minister being able to appoint judges, magistrates, the Police Chief and the Attorney General.

“Allegations of corruption and misconduct, together with concerns about the separation of power, have raised doubt over the effectiveness of the investigation into Ms Caruana Galizia’s death.

Dr Muscat was the subject of and had close connections with other subjects of her reporting. "Is it right that he is responsible for appointing magistrates and the chief of police who should investigate her murder," he asked.

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