Updated at 6.50pm with PN's reaction and PL's reply
The court of appeal has confirmed that Deputy Police Commissioner Silvio Valletta must desist from taking part in the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder investigation, declaring his presence had breached a fundamental right of the journalist's family.
The victim's husband and sons had contested Mr Valletta's presence in the murder investigation, insisting he had a conflict of interest as a result of his marriage to Gozo Minister Justyne Caruana and his role as a board member of the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU).
On Friday morning, the Constitutional Court, presided over by Chief Justice Joseph Azzopardi and Mr Justices Giannino Caruana Demajo and Noel Cuschieri confirmed an earlier judgment by the First Hall, Civil Court stating that Mr Valletta's presence in the murder investigation amounted to a breach of the right to life as safeguarded under article 2 of the European Convention.
The court observed that the Caruana Galizia family had not complained about the part of the investigation which had borne fruit, resulting in the arraignment of three men suspected of having carried out the murder.
The family’s complaint concerned the ongoing investigation upon which they pinned their hope of getting to the mastermind behind the car bomb attack.
The family believed that this was a political murder, possibly ordered by someone high up in government, the court observed, noting that Deputy Commissioner Valletta himself had testified that "no-one was excluded" and that meant his wife and himself too.
The court also observed that in view of allegations that the FIAU, where Mr Valletta was a board member, had failed to investigate a report on money-laundering by political persons, including ministers, his continued presence in the murder investigation "seriously undermined the element of objective impartiality".
However, the court revoked that part of the judgment which had directed that any act or decision taken by Mr Valletta so far was to be re-examined by the person replacing him in the ongoing investigations.
The Constitutional Court declared that there had been no breach of the right to a fair trial as declared by the first court.
In a statement, the police corps took note of the appeals court judgement and noted that deputy commissioner Valletta had already quit the murder investigation following the initial court ruling, before it reached the appeal stage.
The Office of the Prime Minister also reacted to the ruling. In a statement, it noted that the court had found no breach of the article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which guarantees everyone the right to a fair trial.
No proof that investigations leading to the arrest of three people in connection with the murder were defective had been presented, “contrary to allegations made,” the government said.
It also highlighted the court’s denial of a request, made by the Caruana Galizia family, to review all acts and decisions taken as part of the murder investigation so far, saying this was because “the investigations have produced results”.
Mr Valletta, together with his wife, had been targeted by harsh criticism by Ms Caruana Galizia, whose role as an investigative journalist was to place such politically exposed persons under public scrutiny, her family had said.
Lawyers Jason Azzopardi, Therese Comodini Cachia and Eve Borg Costanzi represented the Caruana Galizia family in the case. Lawyer Victoria Buttigieg from the AG’s office assisted the respondent.
In a statement, the Nationalist Party said the constitutional court had shown that yet again, the Labour government had weakened institutions and what the police and the government should have done immediately had to be done by the court.
In a normal country, a minister's husband would have immediately withdrawn from the case. If not, he would have been made to do so by the Police Commissioner.
And if this not done, the government would have removed him from the investigation. At the very least, the government should have accepted the judgement of the first court instead of persisting with an appeal.
In a reply, the Labour Party said that, if anything, the judgement was proof that the rule of law reigned in the country.