Former parliamentary secretary Chris Said yesterday described as “nearly a martyrdom” the past month since the police accused him of perjury, a charge of which he was exonerated to loud applause in a packed Gozo courtroom.
The judgment paves the way for him to be reinstated to his government post from which he resigned on September 23. Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi had expressed the wish for the legal process to be concluded without delay so he would be able to reappoint Dr Said.
Still, Dr Said’s wait is being slightly prolonged after Dr Gonzi yesterday said a decision on whether to reappoint him would only be taken once the appeal period provided by law expired.
Speaking outside the court in Victoria, Dr Said declared he had forgiven Anthony Xuereb, the man who had filed the criminal complaint against him accusing him of lying while testifying in the case over the custody of Mr Xuereb’s son.
In a tense courtroom, Magistrate Edwina Grima acquitted Dr Said of perjury ruling there was “absolutely nothing in (Dr Said’s) testimony that one could remotely say was a lie or incorrect”.
People in the courtroom burst into loud applause, prompting the magistrate to silence them, saying the court was not a theatre or a cinema.
A visibly emotional Dr Said first looked at the ground and then smiled in relief.
The case revolves around his evidence before the civil courts in Gozo last year in the custody battle between Mr Xuereb and Helen Milligan for their son, now three years old.
Dr Said, who had been Ms Milligan’s lawyer prior to being appointed parliamentary secretary, was summoned to testify about court proceedings that had led to his former client being awarded temporary custody in 2007.
On the basis of that testimony, Mr Xuereb had alleged that Dr Said had lied under oath when he said a court had decided to return the child to the mother after it had heard all parties of the case in an evening sitting. The custody decision had been made earlier, Mr Xuereb argued.
The claim of perjury was dismissed by the police and the Attorney General and then even by a magistrate, who ruled that, even though Dr Said had made a mistake, he had not committed perjury.
However, a court of appeal, presided over by Mr Justice Michael Mallia, overturned that judgment, ruling that Dr Said’s error did, in fact, constitute prima facie evidence of possible perjury. He ordered that criminal proceedings should be instituted against him for a court to decide the matter. This prompted his resignation as parliamentary secretary.
Mr Xuereb had complained that Dr Said’s erroneous testimony had had a bearing on the determination of the case. However, Magistrate Grima differed, saying that “... whatever Chris Said testified in court was correct”.
It was evident, she added, that Dr Said’s testimony had no influence on the decision taken by the presiding magistrate in the child custody case.
Magistrate Grima said the court had decided to award custody of the child to the mother and not to Mr Xuereb because he was incapable of striking a compromise. “Dr Said’s testimony had nothing to do with it.”
Moreover, it was clear that Dr Said’s intention was to assist the parties and to answer questions put to him. There was no evidence that indicated Dr Said “intentionally and maliciously failed to mention facts of the case”.
The magistrate commented about Mr Xuereb, who, she said, had a “negative attitude” and it was this that was to blame for the custody decision rather than Dr Said’s testimony.
At the end of her 13-page judgment, Magistrate Grima reprimanded Mr Xuereb for using the judicial system to have a go at his son’s mother: “... the court feels it should draw (Mr Xuereb’s) attention to the fact that he cannot continue using the judicial system to take some form of revenge against his son’s mother.
“He should seek his son’s best interest first and foremost and all these legal battles will certainly not lead him to anything. Although he has every right to seek justice through the law courts... he should not abuse of the system and must always ensure that his actions before the courts are within the parameters of the law.”
Upon leaving the court, Dr Said expressed his satisfaction that justice had prevailed and that what he had been saying from the very outset was proved right.
The court, he said, had confirmed he had done his duty as a lawyer and had not done anything wrong. He thanked all those who supported him, even those who did not share his political beliefs. Former Labour international secretary, Joe Mifsud, a lawyer, was among those present in court, supporting Dr Said, a personal friend.
He then went to his home in Nadur where he was joined by relatives and, more importantly, his parents, Lucy, 60 and Michael, 64, who shed tears of joy.
Speaking from Brussels, where he was attending an EU summit, Dr Gonzi did not comment on the actual outcome of the case but simply said a decision on whether or not Dr Said would be reappointed parliamentary secretary would only be taken once the appeal period set by law expired.
Dr Said’s lawyer, Joe Giglio, expressed satisfaction at the outcome of the case, remarking it was unlikely the Attorney General would appeal. “I consider this case closed although the Police Commissioner has four working days to give notice of an appeal and the Attorney General eight working days to decide whether to appeal or not.
“Since both had previously declared there was no case to answer to in the first place, it is obvious no appeal will be filed. Besides, in my opinion, the judgment delivered (by Magistrate Grima) is both legally and factually flawless,” he said.
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