Argument leads Magistrate Depasquale to throw parties out of courtroom in Tonio Fenech libel case
Magistrate Francesco Depasquale yesterday abruptly halted a court sitting after both parties, and their lawyers, entered into a heated argument.
He was hearing libel proceedings instituted by Joseph Cordina, Carmelo Scerri and Martin Fenech against former finance minister Tonio Fenech.
Libel proceedings were initiated after Mr Fenech claimed that a former Labour Party financial administrator was directly linked with the Enemalta oil scandal.
While addressing the press conference in question, Mr Fenech claimed that Joe Cordina, then PL financial administrator, was involved in the company owned by oil trader George Farrugia, called Aikon Ltd.
Mr Fenech said that after he became energy minister in 2010, he was in possession of a fairly detailed report, penned by the Auditor General, to investigate the alleged scandal.
Lawyer Paul Lia, appearing for those who instituted the case, questioned whether Mr Fenech had investigated the allegations surrounding the oil scandal – in view of the fact that he was energy minister at the time.
To which, Mr Fenech replied that he was a minister, and not the police.
Lawyer Ian Spiteri Bailey, who was representing Mr Fenech, intervened a number of times to caution his counterpart. He repeatedly said that the cross-examination should not extend beyond the case, meaning that questions had to be limited to the comments made during the allegedly defamatory press conference and not to embark on a whole new investigation into the oil scandal.
Dr Lia pointed out that he could have easily asked for the removal of the report presented by Mr Fenech, adding that it was not technically admissible because it was not a sworn document. He explained that it had actually been commissioned privately by the Farrugia family.
The court was told that the report had been handed by Mr Fenech to the Commissioner of Inland Revenue for investigation.
It was at this point when the argument between the two sides began to escalate, with loud interjections and interruptions being constantly made. Magistrate Depasquale then decided to bring the sitting to an end in view of the uncivil behaviour being displayed.
Lawyers Ian Spiteri Bailey and Joseph Zammit Maempel appeared for Mr Fenech.
Lawyer Paul Lia appeared for the applicants.