Malta urged to speed up moves on judicial independence

By Daniel Boffey in Brussels

The European commission has urged the Maltese government to fast-track measures to end political interference in criminal prosecutions in response to revelations about the investigation into the murder of the journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

The European justice commissioner, Didier Reynders, said recent developments in the case had highlighted systemic problems in the Maltese system.

In a letter to the country’s justice minister, Owen Bonnici, Reynders demanded a timetable for strengthening the independence of judicial appointments and the establishment of a more robust prosecution service.

“Recent controversies have underlined that progress should accelerate, for example on securing an effective and autonomous prosecution service with clear protections from the risk of political interference,” he wrote. “The continued concerns surrounding the investigation have put the spotlight on a number of more systemic issues.”

Concerns have been voiced in Brussels that Malta’s prime minister, Joseph Muscat, is still in post despite a series of troubling revelations about his government.

Muscat’s former chief of staff Keith Schembri was arrested last month by police investigating Caruana Galizia’s murder. He was released without charge in connection with the investigation and denies any wrongdoing.

Yorgen Fenech, a Maltese businessman who has been charged in connection with the killing, has told a court that he received regular information about the investigation from Schembri, as well as counsel on how to respond when questioned by police.

Fenech has plead not guilty to a charge of complicity in the murder and four other charges, including membership of a criminal gang. A man given immunity from prosecution has confessed to being a middleman in the murder.

Muscat has said he will leave his post in January once a replacement for him has been found.

Caruana Galizia’s family have accused the Maltese government of a cover-up. Muscat denies any wrongdoing.