What is a magisterial inquiry and when does it happen?

A magisterial inquiry is an investigation carried out by a magistrate to establish who is responsible for a crime. There are two principles that need to be satisfied for a magistrate to carry out a magisterial inquiry: the incident must carry a jail term of more than three years and the evidence in the case needs to be preserved immediately.

A magisterial inquiry can be started upon request by the police or by a private citizen who has made a report or complaint.

How long does a magisterial inquiry take to be concluded?

The length of magisterial inquiries varies. The large backlog of cases in Malta means magisterial inquiries can take a few years to be resolved, depending on the complexity of the case.

What is a public inquiry and how does it differ from a magisterial inquiry?

A public inquiry can be appointed by the Prime Minister or by a minister, and is conducted independently of State authorities and has comprehensive, transparent and accessible terms of reference. Rather than assessing who is criminally responsible, as a magisterial inquiry does, a public inquiry analyses the broader systems in which the crime was committed. A public inquiry questions whether there are any shortcomings in the country’s legal, administrative or political structures.

In Malta, there have only been three public inquiries. These are the inquiry into the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia and that into the death of construction worker Jean Paul Sofia, as well as the 1996 public inquiry into allegations of bribery on a contract for new bus tickets.

A public inquiry is usually appointed after much political and public pressure, as was seen in past public inquiries.

What is an independent inquiry and how does it differ from a public inquiry?

An independent inquiry is appointed by the Prime Minister or minister to look into the state’s responsibility under the Inquiries Act in an incident, focusing particularly on the conduct of any government department or public officers, their responsibilities and functions, or any other issues concerning the service of the government.

Whenever there is a suspicious or violent death, the government is obliged to launch an independent inquiry under the European Convention for Human Rights. But the follow-up to the outcome of that inquiry is a purely political decision that often leaves people questioning if there is anything to hide.

What determines whether that independent inquiry is public (heard in the open) or not depends on the terms of reference.

An example of a recent independent inquiry is that into the femicide of Bernice Cassar.

Next page: Victims’ Guidebook Part 5 – Civil Law