Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis on Wednesday declined to say whether an inquiry into a lawyer who is now defending Daphne Caruana Galizia murder suspect Yorgen Fenech would be made public.

Speaking in parliament, the minister dodged a question by Opposition MP Karol Aquilina, who wanted to know whether the findings of the inquiry into Charles Mercieca would be open to scrutiny.

Mercieca worked as a public prosecutor until last week, when he tendered his resignation and joined Fenech’s legal team the very next day. The switch prompted concern among relatives of Caruana Galizia as well as at the Council of Europe parliamentary assembly, which warned that “irreperable harm” risked being done to the ongoing murder case.

An inquiry into the move, appointed by Zammit Lewis on Tuesday, is being led by former chief justice Joseph Azzopardi. It must present its findings by June 16.

Opposition MP Jason Azzopardi has noted that the inquiry’s terms of reference have not been made public, while the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation has said that its scope means it will be unable to erase all doubts arising from Mercieca’s switch to Fenech’s defence team.

Inquiry's terms of reference

Zammit Lewis told parliament on Wednesday that the decision against publishing the terms of reference had been taken on the basis of legal advice.

“Had these been in the public domain the investigation could have been jeopardised as those under investigation could been tipped off in advance on the type of questions which they would be facing,” he said.

The justice minister added this was no public inquiry, even though he refuted criticism that the government was trying to keep certain matter concealed.

Zammit Lewis also clarified that the inquiry was appointed in response to concerns raised “in Malta and abroad” and was in no way an attempt to take disciplinary action. 

“This is no disciplinary action against a lawyer. There is the Commission for the Administration of Justice for such matter,” the minister said in response to a supplementary question from Labour MP Jean Claude Micallef.

The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation referred the case to the Commission last week. 

Meanwhile, the justice minister said the government was working on a plan for the gradual reopening of the law courts, which have been closed for two months due to the COVID-19 outbreak. He noted that talks were being held with the chief justice, the Opposition and the Chamber of Lawyers.

However, he said that this plan would only be implemented when it would be endorsed by all stakeholders.

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