Updated 7.30pm with Corinne Vella's statement
The government told the judges presiding the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder inquiry on Tuesday that once they had taken it upon themselves to extend the inquiry's deadline and its terms of reference, they must now assume responsibility for the consequences.
The inquiry was meant to be concluded in September but the prime minister had granted it a one-off extension to today, Tuesday.
But on Monday the judges said they needed more time to conclude their work, and they said the inquiry would therefore continue past the new deadline. They pointed out in particular they needed to know about the findings of data from electronic devices analysed by Europol which will become available in January.
In a brief statement on Tuesday, the government said:
"The board has taken upon itself the right to extend its deadline indefinitely.
"The board has also decided that it alone has the right to determine the limits of its terms of reference.
"The board has to assume responsibility for its decisions and its consequences."
The inquiry board in its statement on Monday said that they would not accept any undue pressure or interference curtailing their brief.
“The search for truth should never be subjected to arbitrary and unilateral terms which may condition those called to judge,” the chairman of the board, Judge Michael Mallia said.
Earlier this month, the prime minister had said the inquiry board had already been given enough time to fulfil its mandate.
The inquiry, which is to determine if the state could have prevented Caruana Galizia's murder in 2017, was also criticised for going beyond its terms of reference.
The judges said that the board, in defence of its “independence and autonomy,” would appreciate if it were allowed to proceed with its work “serenely” so as to reach an objective judgment, free of “improper pressure and undue interference,” he said.
There was no room for binding time limits unless stated in the terms of reference, and the original nine-month limit had been set out without prejudice to the “just fulfilment” of those terms, agreed upon with the family of the assassinated journalist, they said.
It was only for the board to determine the terms of reference and the level of proof necessary to fulfil that brief, they continued.
“Every attempt to limit or extend those terms is thus unacceptable,” the board declared, going on to state that any such attempt, direct or indirect, is to be considered as interference in the course of justice.
Retired Judge Mallia and Chief Justice Emeritus Joseph Said Pullicino declared they were willing to renounce their honoraria in view of the “wrong perception” emanating from certain quarters that prolonging the inquiry could burden the public coffers.
The Caruana Galizia family had also insisted that the inquiry should be allowed to continue so that lessons could be learnt.
In a reaction on Tuesday, Corinne Vella, Daphne's sister said the terms of reference of the public inquiry are self-explanatory.
"As we said in a statement we issued last week, it is only if the public inquiry completes its mission that lessons can be learnt from Daphne’s assassination, however uncomfortable this process may be for those who bear responsibility. And it is only then that the country can begin a process of real change that ensures nothing like this ever happens again, to Malta’s institutions and journalists."
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