Chief Justice Emeritus and a former judge at the European Court of Human Rights, Vincent de Gaetano, will chair a committee investigating two lawyers over the alleged attempt to bribe a Times of Malta journalist.
The matter was referred to the Committee for Advocates and Legal Procurators, which is a sub-committee of the Commission for the Administration of Justice, headed by the president of Malta.
The lawyers are Gianluca Caruana Curran, who tried to hand over a set of €500 notes to journalist Ivan Martin last Monday, and lawyer Charles Mercieca, who was present in the room at the time.
The two are on the defence team of businessman Yorgen Fenech, who stands charged with conspiring to murder journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in a car bomb in October 2017.
Martin refused the payment and reported the matter to his editors. The incident is also being investigated by the police.
The committee is composed of a member appointed by the commission, a member appointed by the attorney general and three members appointed by the Chamber of Advocates. The person who chairs the committee is elected by the members.
The committee is entrusted by law to investigate the professional conduct of advocates and legal procurators. It reports its findings to the commission.
The lawyers’ warrants cannot be suspended pending the investigation
What can the committee recommend?
If it finds there has been misconduct by an advocate or legal procurator in the exercise of their profession, it may request the commission to recommend suspension, perpetually or for a specific period, from the exercise of the profession.
That recommendation would go to the prime minister who would in turn advise the President to take this step.
The commission may also impose a fine, capped at 10 per cent of the attorney general’s salary – around €6,000.
Otherwise, it may choose to admonish the advocate or legal procurator or make recommendations to them that it deems fit in the circumstances.
A spokesman for the Chamber of Advocates confirmed that proceedings before both the committee and the commission are secret, as regulated by law.
“The reports of the Committee for Advocates and Legal Procurators with respect to any disciplinary action are regulated by the provisions of the Commission for the Administration of Justice Act, pursuant to which they do not become public documents,” the spokesman said.
Lawyers for the Caruana Galizia family have filed a court application demanding a police and magisterial probe.
They expressed shock at the revelation, saying the attempted payment amounts to bribery under the Criminal Code.
Caruana Curran has admitted “remuneration was offered” but he and Mercieca have made a series of claims including that the well-known journalist was “posing as an investigator”, which has been denied.
Martin has described how, at the end of a 20-minute meeting in Valletta on Monday with both lawyers, Caruana Curran handed him between two and four €500 notes, which he rejected.
The chamber spokesman said that the lawyers’ warrants cannot be suspended pending the investigation.
“The warrant of an advocate can be suspended only after a proper investigation has been completed into the merits of an allegation levelled at an advocate, and then only if after a comprehensive investigation finds a breach of the code of ethics can any disciplinary action, such as a suspension, be enforced,” he said.