Updated at 7.10pm, adds family's statement
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat is planning to meet the family of the late journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia to discuss the inquiry that will look into the circumstances surrounding her death.
A spokesman for the Office of the Prime Minister told Times of Malta that the government had established contact with the Caruana Galizia family to find a mutually agreeable date to hold a meeting.
On Friday, the government announced that Judge Emeritus Michael Mallia had been appointed to preside over a public independent inquiry into the murder of Ms Caruana Galizia.
The family have reacted to the announcement with concerns over the impartiality of the members of the board of inquiry.
Contacted on Saturday, Ms Caruana Galizia's husband Peter also confirmed that the family was in touch with the OPM and "the intention is to meet".
"They appear willing to meet with us," he said, adding that Dr Muscat would be travelling to New York for the UN summit today, and so the meeting would have to wait until he was back in Malta.
Later on Saturday, the family issued a statement saying they were relieved to hear that the government, after failing to answer their legal letters, now wanted to discuss the membership of the board of inquiry.
Consultation on the board’s membership, they said, was in accordance with the obligations owed to bereaved next of kin, pursuant to Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights. It would also allow the opportunity to provide the government with notice of any connections between members and Ms Caruana Galizia, and any pronouncements they made on her assassination.
The family said that the membership suggested by the government late on Friday remained unconfirmed until this consultation was over. Meanwhile, the family noted that the suggested members have caused grave public concern.
"We share the public’s concern and will raise further concerns when the Prime Minister agrees to meet us. We are waiting to hear from him."
The family said that for the public inquiry to be in compliance with Maltese laws, it had to be truly independent, impartial, and have the trust of all parties.
"We trust that any suggested members are aware of these legal requirements and will spare the need for recusal applications.
"Malta has been denied truth and justice for two years. It cannot wait any longer," the family said.
The Council of Europe had given Malta three months to set up the inquiry, a deadline which expires next week.
The commission will be also composed of former Dean of the Faculty of Law, constitutional expert Ian Refalo and forensic expert Anthony Abela Medici.
Among other things, the inquiry will be held to establish whether the assassination of Ms Caruana Galizia in October 2017 could have been prevented. The inquiry is to be concluded within nine months.
Reacting to the setting up of a public inquiry, the Caruana Galizia family have said that given the gravity of its purpose and it mandate to investigate state institutions, justice demands that the board of inquiry’s wider members have no financial or political links to the current political administration.
“The board will be unfit for purpose if the public has reason to doubt any of its wider members’ independence or impartiality,” the family said, before asking for a meeting with Dr Muscat to discuss these concerns.
Meanwhile, NGO Repubblika said it was deeply disturbed to learn that the government had not consulted the Caruana Galizia family about the composition of the inquiry.
What are the issues with the board members?
The NGO said that while no one doubted Prof. Refalo’s legal competence, he was also required to be impartial.
“He represents the FIAU, the reputation of which has been utterly destroyed by Daphne Caruana Galizia’s formidable journalism. She has exposed that agency’s ineptitude or wilful reluctance in fighting against pervasive money laundering and has forced the agency to buckle under the scrutiny of the European Banking Authority and other international agencies and institutions,” the NGO said.
Prof. Refalo also represents the FIAU in the case raised by Jonathan Ferris. Mr Ferris is a key witness in matters raised by Ms Caruana Galizia in her journalism and that could be connected with her assassination, the NGO said.
Prof. Refalo also counts among his clients former Allied Group Managing Director Adrian Hillman, who had also been a subject of Ms Caruana Galizia’s writings.
“This is another case where a member of this inquiry board is acting on the brief of someone who cannot be ruled out a priori from involvement in this case,” the NGO said.
Similarly, Prof. Refalo’s portfolio of clients includes Technoline, a firm involved in the privatisation of state hospitals, which was investigated by Ms Caruana Galizia.
And, whatever good intentions Dr Anthony Abela Medici may have, his expertise appears to be only marginally relevant to the inquiry, the NGO said.
Furthermore, he is currently Commissioner for the Voluntary Sector - a position granted by the government without security of tenure.
Judge Mallia meanwhile, had been tasked with assessing and investigating the content of Ms Caruana Galizia’s work computer and was therefore part of the ongoing criminal investigations.
"His involvement in both inquiries is conflicted and by the rules of engagement set out by the government itself yesterday a paralysis for the proper conduct of either inquiry," the NGO said.
Government takes note of criticism on board members
In a statement in the afternoon, the government confirmed that contacts were ongoing for a meeting to take place with the Caruana Galizia family.
It also said it took note of comments made on the members of the board and noted that no criticism was made with regards to the terms of reference.
It said that Judge Mallia’s role as court-appointed expert in the compilation of evidence proceedings following the murder did not interfere with his role as chairman of the inquiry. In fact, Judge Mallia was appointed as expert upon the consent of all parties involved.
The government referred to criticism on Prof. Refalo’s appointment noting that he was criticised solely due to his role as a professional lawyer.
The right to access to a lawyer and the right of a lawyer to practice his or her profession were cornerstones of the rule of law, and this did not impede a lawyer’s judgement, the government said.
Prof. Refalo was well known for his integrity and was a point of reference for the legal profession in Malta. Lawyers were also governed by a code of ethics.
As for Dr Abela Medici's role as Commissioner for NGOs, the government said the Voluntary Organisations Act provided for important safeguards of security of tenure for the post
Therefore, the claim that the Commissioner for NGOs was dependent on the government was incorrect.
Repubblika hopes choice of board members is not irrevocable
In a reply to the government's statement, Repubblika said that the fact that Judge Mallia’s involvement in the inquiry followed “the consent of all parties involved” did not address the potential conflict of that role with the role of heading an inquiry that included in its terms of reference the very explicit and categorical statement that it was to be conducted “in such a way as not to impede or compromise any criminal investigation or prosecution or its integrity”.
Therefore, the objection was not about what the parties may think of Judge Mallia but whether it was at all possible for him to comply with the terms of reference set out by the government itself. "It is not," Repubblika said.
It added that the right of Prof. Refalo's clients to resort to him as their legal counsel or his right to advise them had not been put in question. But it was absurd to suggest that these rights were relevant in this instance. All judges and magistrates were lawyers. That did not mean that anyone could hire a judge as their lawyer or that a judge had the right to be someone’s lawyer.
Repubblika said that the government’s reference to lawyers' code of ethics showed a perverse but wilful misunderstanding of the ethics expected of all professionals.
According to the code, awyers were expected to ensure they did not place themselves in conflicting roles.
"What happens when the inquiry needs to investigate the FIAU? Or to hear evidence from Mr Ferris or MrHillman? Or to assess connections between the VGH scandal and freemasonry? What will happen to information given to Prof. Refalo in confidence by his clients that could be relevant to the inquiry?"
It was not merely incumbent on Prof. Refalo to ensure he did not place himself in conflicting positions, it was also for the government to ensure the inquiry was independent and seen to be so.
Turning to Dr Abela Medici, Repubblika said that, as Commissioner for NGOs, Dr Abela Media most certainly did not enjoy “important safeguards of security of tenure”.
He was appointed for three years on May 11, 2018 and on May 10, 2021 his appointment would be renewable at the exclusive and unhindered discretion of the government.
All the government needed to do to dismiss him during his term without even consulting Parliament was to wait for Parliament to be in recess.
As for the terms of reference, these were irrelevant until the people identified to deliver them were seen by all to be people who could satisfy the fundamental requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights, particularly independence and impartiality. The current proposed composition of the board did not.
Repubblika hoped that the government’s baseless defence of its choices to conduct this inquiry did not mean that its decision on the matter was irrevocable and could not be changed by any arguments the family could put forward.
If that were the case, the government would be adding one more insult to the many injuries it has already inflicted on the family of a journalist assassinated serving her nation.