Magistrate Nadine Lia has abstained from an inquiry into a phantom government job given to Daphne Caruana Galizia murder middleman Melvin Theuma, stating that justice need not only be done but must be seen to be done.
Mr Theuma claims he was offered the job after a meeting with Prime Minister Joseph Muscat's Chief of Staff, Keith Schembri at Auberge de Castille, shortly after the journalist's assassination had been contracted.
Lawyers for Tony Muscat, the CEO of the government company who gave Mr Theuma the job, had filed an application seeking the Magistrate’s recusal on account of her family ties to the prime minister's personal lawyer Pawlu Lia.
The magistrate had already abstained for similar reasons from presiding over the compilation of evidence against Yorgen Fenech, who is accused of being complicit in murdering the journalist in October 2017.
In her decree, Magistrate Lia stressed that the lawyers had not questioned her “impartiality or personal integrity” in any way, but only the fact that “as happened from time to time in a small country, a person related to the magistrate happened to be the lawyer of a client who was involved in the inquiry.”
Whilst noting that, at first glance, there was absolutely no legal basis for the recusal, to avoid “any worries and doubts, gratuitous as they may be,” Magistrate Lia deemed it best to uphold the request for her recusal.
“In view of the facts of the inquiry and its sensitivity,” and to avoid any possible doubts as to any perceived “conflicts of interest,” the Magistrate declared that she was abstaining from handling the inquiry, even so that justice would not only be done but would also be seen to be done.
The inquiry over "alleged illegitimate use of public funds and other offences in connection with Melvin Theuma’s employment with a government company between March and October of 2017" was thus sent back to the Registrar of the Criminal Courts to be reassigned.
Lawyers John Gauci, Ruth Ellul and Julian Farrugia signed the application for the Magistrate’s recusal in the phantom job inquiry.