Updated 12.30pm - Added video
An appeal against a magistrate's decision to investigate whether Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri broke money laundering laws will be heard in public, Mr Justice Antonio Mizzi ruled this morning.
The investigation was ordered in light of Panama Papers revelations about the secret companies in Panama opened by Mr Mizzi and Mr Schembri and their trusts in New Zealand. The investigation also involves Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, former Allied Newspapers managing director Adrian Hillman, Nexia BT officials Karl Cini and Brian Tonna and businessman Malcolm Scerri.
They had appealed the magistrate's decision and also asked that appeal hearings be heard behind closed doors.
Opposition leader Simon Busuttil objected, insisting that proceedings should be in open court. He had also urged Mr Justice Mizzi to recuse himself, because he is married to Labour MEP Marlene Mizzi. No decision has been taken on that point so far.
New Nationalist Party leader Adrian Delia attended the court sitting this morning, along with Dr Busuttil and Jason Azzopardi, who had campaigned against the former Birkirkara FC president in the leadership election.
Lawyers challenge recusal request
Having ruled that the hearing should take place in open court, Mr Justice Mizzi went on to hear submissions concerning the recusal request filed by lawyers for the seven men involved in the appeal.
Lawyer Edward Gatt argued that the judge should dismiss the challenge presented and just get on with hearing the appeal case.
Dr Gatt told the court that the law precluded the judge from dismissing himself.
Lawyer John Bonello followed where his colleague left off, saying EU law made it clear that the judiciary's political associations could not be totally excluded.
Malta's judicial system was small, and everyone involved worked out of the same building. "An element of familiarity is unavoidable," Dr Bonello said, unlike the situation abroad, where there were many courts spread over a large area.
Dr Bonello also took a dig at Jason Azzopardi, saying the PN MP was often involved in such requests, which were on the rise.
Lawyer Stephen Tonna Lowell also argued, like Dr Gatt before him, that the law precluded Mr Justice Mizzi from accepting the challenge made in his regard.
To uphold the challenge application made by the Opposition, he argued, the court would have to violate the law.
Ian Refalo told the court that his client Mr Hillman was a private person with no political association. He went on to argue that the law made it clear that a judge had to have expressed an opinion for the court to accept a challenge request.
In this case, Prof. Refalo said, it was the judge's wife who had expressed an opinion, not the judge himself. The application for a challenge was therefore based on a wrong premise, he said.
Justice must be seen to be done - Jason Azzopardi
Replying to the lawyers' submissions, the PN's Dr Azzopardi reiterated that justice not only had to be done but must also be seen to be done, irrespective of the impartiality of the judge in question.
He cited a 2008 judgment which found that other grounds not stated in law and which cast doubts on a judge's impartiality might be reason enough for a judge to recuse themselves.
Dr Azzopardi, addressing Mr Justice Mizzi directly, told the judge that the PN was not doubting his integrity, as the other side had tried to imply.
He said madame justice Edwina Grima had opted not to preside over cases related to hunting because she was related to a BirdLife Malta activist through marriage.
No one doubts her impartiality and integrity but she still abstained, without being asked to do so, Dr Azzopardi argued.
Proceedings heated up when Dr Azzopardi made reference to a comment passed by lawyer and Labour Party MP Robert Abela on Facebook, prompting lawyer Pawlu Lia to leap up in protest and Mr Justice Mizzi to say only facts in court were relevant.
After hearing brief counter-arguments put forward by Dr Gatt and Prof. Refalo, Mr Justice Mizzi adjourned the case for 10 days to September 28, adding that he expected all parties to be present for the sitting.
Labour Party obstructing justice - Delia
In comments to the media outside the law courts, Dr Azzopardi, flanked by Simon Busuttil and Adrian Delia on either side, said the PN was united in continuing its fight against corruption and wrongdoing.
Asked about Dr Delia's appearance in court alongside him today, Dr Azzopardi said he had no problem with the PN's new leader being present.
"I have absolutely no problem with it, he has every right as a lawyer - with the consensus of Dr Busuttil, who is the client in this case."
Dr Delia said the Labour Party was clearly trying to confuse matters.
"The Labour Party's position in this case is clear. It is doing all it can to obstruct the course of justice," the new PN leader said.
PL Reaction: 'Addio' New Way
In a reaction, the Labour Party said Dr Delia had bowed to Dr Busuttil. This, it said, meant goodbye to his promised New Way. "Old habits die hard."
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