A panel of judges leading the public inquiry into whether the state could have prevented the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia are on Thursday expected to announce whether they have concluded or require more time to deliberate.
Last month, the panel of three judges said the inquiry report would be concluded by July 15. It is understood that on Wednesday the panel was still debating if it was satisfied with its current draft or if it should take until next week to finalise the report.
Whenever the panel decides to release the report, it does not mean it will be immediately available to the public.
According to rules governing public inquiries, the panel must first give it to the government, specifically to the Office of the Prime Minister, which will have eight working days to review it.
Then the report is handed over to the victims, in this case the Caruana Galizia family, who also can review it.
The inquiry is presided over by retired judge Michael Mallia along with former chief justice Joseph Said Pullicino and Madam Justice Abigail Lofaro.
Caruana Galizia was killed by a car bomb in Bidnija, in October 2017, and the government gave in to pressure to hold the inquiry in July 2019.
Then prime minister Joseph Muscat had initially resisted the calls, saying that the attorney general had advised against holding an inquiry during court proceedings against three men charged with the murder.
The government, however, gave the go-ahead after the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, in June 2019, overwhelmingly approved a resolution calling for the government to establish “at the earliest opportunity, within three months, an independent public inquiry in order to ensure fulfilment of its obligations under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights”.
There was initial disagreement between the Caruana Galizia family and the government on the composition of the inquiry board and the terms of reference of the inquiry.
According to rules on public inquiries, the panel must first give it to the government
Following a meeting between the family and Muscat in October 2019, changes were made by the government.
Among other things, the original terms of reference said the inquiry would look into whether the state had effective deterrents and criminal investigative powers in place.
It also laid out that the inquiry would investigate whether the state was able to avoid a de facto state of impunity through the frequent occurrence of unsolved crimes.
But the terms were then widened, with the inquiry asked to also establish if the state “caused” a real immediate risk to Caruana Galizia’s life.
The inquiry’s sittings started in December 2019 when the members of the family were called to testify. The inquiry has since heard scores of witnesses, including investigators, politicians and journalists.
The inquiry heard accounts of the murder scene and how the journalist had been threatened and hounded prior to the murder. Investigators also described how the murder investigation proceeded.
The probe questioned witnesses on possible motives for the assassination.
Muscat appeared before the inquiry for some five hours, starting his testimony by lashing out at the inquiry board for having, in his view, gone beyond their terms of reference.
Former energy minister Konrad Mizzi refused to answer questions, insisting he was not involved in the murder.
Former chief of staff Keith Schembri also testified, admitting that he knew Yorgen Fenech was a person of interest in the murder around a year before his arrest.
Murder plot middleman Melvin Theuma spoke about how Fenech was fed information by both Schembri and investigator Silvio Valletta.
In March, the inquiry heard that Fenech donated money to the Nationalist Party and was also given stories about the party to leak to rival media, according to former PN executive Pierre Portelli.
Last December, Prime Minister Robert Abela insisted that, with the inquiry already having been given a time extension because of COVID-19, it should conclude its proceedings by a new deadline of December 15.
But the inquiry judges responded that they were prepared to carry on, even without compensation, until they were satisfied that all work had been satisfactorily carried out.
The judges declared that they would not accept any undue pressure or interference curtailing their brief.
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