Updated 8.30pm, adds PN statement
Updated 9am Friday with PD statement and at 12.45pm with Repubblika
The government will launch a public inquiry into the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia in the coming months, sticking to a three-month deadline set by the Council of Europe, Foreign Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela confirmed.
Fielding questions at a media freedom event in London, Mr Abela said the Prime Minister was committed to establishing the public inquiry within the deadline set by the Council of Europe.
It is the first time any government minister has committed to a public inquiry.
Last month, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, said he would be seeking advice on the matter and had pointed out that the Attorney General advised against holding one during court proceedings against three men charged with the journalist's murder.
“Basically, in that Council of Europe report there is that within three months, we need to have a public inquiry," said Mr Abela.
“My prime minister made it very clear that a public inquiry will be set up, so now it is even more visible - the statement that I made - that the public inquiry will be set up within the three months that the Council of Europe stated and the question is now how we can mitigate the possible difference and the possible impact that having a public inquiry at the same as a criminal investigation might have.
“So the position now is that we will abide by the timing that the Council of Europe dictated but we need to make sure that one does not impinge on the other,” Mr Abela said.
A report by Council of Europe rapporteur Pieter Omtzigt called on the government to establish a public inquiry to investigate whether Ms Caruana Galizia’s murder could have been prevented. The report was overwhelmingly approved at the end of last month.
The comments by the minister mark the first time the government has committed to sticking to the three-month deadline.
His assurance that the public inquiry will be held came just moments after he said in a speech that the issue with holding such an inquiry was not about “if” this would be held but “when”. This, Mr Abela went on, was because of the fact there were other “pending inquiries and prosecutions” and that their integrity “needs to be preserved”.
Questions sent to the Foreign Affairs Ministry have yet to be answered.
Reacting the day after the report was approved by the Council, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat did not rule out the appointment of such an inquiry. He insisted, however, that he would be seeking fresh advice on the matter as the Attorney General had already clearly advised against such an inquiry due to ongoing court proceedings against the three people accused of carrying out the bomb plot.
“I will not be the one responsible for a public inquiry destroying the case against the three accused,” Dr Muscat had said.
Meanwhile, freedom of expression advocate Sarah Clarke, who asked Mr Abela the question, said following the event that the international community “will be watching closely”.
In a statement, the Nationalist Party noted that the government had finally found the will to do what it should have done as soon as Ms Caruana Galizia was killed.
It said it expected the Inquiry Board to be apolitical for the rule of law to be implemented.
The government, it said, had been dragging its feet and while shirking its responsibilities it had destroyed Malta’s reputation in the Council of Europe.
The PN said it expected all board members to be independent and impartial without any political ties whatsoever. To ensure this, it said the board should be appointed by Parliament and not by the Prime Minister on his own, who, after all, had to give in and appoint this board against his wishes and following pressure from the Council of Europe.
The board should be given the remit to determine if the journalist’s death could have been avoided and if the state had carried out its duty in taking the necessary action considering the prejudice and danger she was facing. It should also investigate if the procedures and administrative structures were sufficient to protect her life.
It was only in this way that the state would be doing its duty and implementing justice with the Caruana Galizia family and the Maltese and Gozitan people, the PN said.
PD calls for broad remit
Partit Demokratiku also welcomed the announcement, saying it was essential for the public inquiry to be free from any outside influence and given as broad a remit possible to be in a position to deliver truth and justice.
"Only a public inquiry that is established on a sound legal footing can achieve this goal," it said on Friday.
It reiterated the proposal first made by PD in December that the Inquiries Act be amended to establish a Truth Commission under Maltese law but led by the Council of Europe.
Activists group says about time
Activist group Repubblika welcomed the announcement but said there was no reason for any further delay, saying the inquiry should have been set in motion 18 months ago.