22 Nov 2019
The facade of the Auberge de Castille in Valletta, which houses the Prime Minister's office

Dr George Hyzler, Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, has concluded that the Prime Minister did not commit a breach of ethics when he engaged a British law firm to send a legal letter on behalf of the government.

The case relates to the publication of a book entitled Murder on the Malta Express, which deals with the circumstances surrounding the killing of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Before the publication of the book, one of the authors, Manuel Delia, sent letters on his own behalf and that of a team of international journalists posing a number of questions to the Prime Minister, his wife, Ministers Konrad Mizzi and Chris Cardona, and the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, Keith Schembri. The government engaged the British law firm Carter-Ruck to answer these letters on its behalf.

This prompted Dr Andrew Borg Cardona to submit a complaint to the Commissioner for Standards. Dr Borg Cardona alleged that the engagement of Carter-Ruck represented misuse of public funds since it was answering for individuals including the Prime Minister’s wife, who was not part of the government. He also stated that the letter was intended to intimidate the authors of the book by raising the possibility of their facing legal proceedings in London, where legal costs are very high.

In his case report, the Standards Commissioner concluded that the Prime Minister’s decision to engage a foreign legal firm on behalf of the government was within the scope of his legitimate discretion since the government had a genuine interest in the case, given that the allegations in the letters had a direct negative impact on the reputation of the government and the country.

The Commissioner also concluded that while Carter-Ruck’s legal letter on behalf of the government did contain statements reserving the rights of the individuals concerned, at the level of a simple letter this did not amount to misuse of public resources. Furthermore, the wording of the letter could not be considered intimidating, so it did not infringe the book authors’ right to freedom of expression.

However, the Commissioner also stated that if the individuals to whom Mr Delia wrote were to institute legal proceedings for damages for their own benefit, they themselves should bear the legal costs. Under no circumstances should the government finance, or appear to finance, litigation costs for the benefit of any individual.

The Commissioner’s case report can be downloaded from here.