Tackling impunity: Lessons from the Public Inquiry into the Assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia

29 July 2022

The murder of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia sent shockwaves across Europe and was a grim reminder of the risk reporters face while uncovering abuses of power. It was the first assassination of a journalist worldwide to be investigated through an independent Public Inquiry. To mark one year since the damning findings were unveiled, ARTICLE 19 Europe and The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation today publish a report that explores the efficacy of the Maltese Public Inquiry model assessing whether it stands up as good practice.

The Public Inquiry into the circumstances of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination was the first Public Inquiry to have taken place in Malta in nearly 20 years. It followed a strong public demand for accountability and a strengthened capacity to tackle corruption and wider rule-of-law reforms. Our research report, “Tackling Impunity: Lessons from the Public Inquiry into the Assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia”, assesses the significance of the Maltese Public Inquiry in the fight for truth, accountability and justice for Daphne’s assassination and the vital role civil society and international organisations play in ensuring an independent investigation. In addition, the report identifies lessons that can be learned from the Public Inquiry process so far, summarises its key achievements, and makes recommendations to the Government of Malta, to European Union Institutions, and to international civil society.

The independent Public Inquiry into the circumstances of the brutal murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia was established after a two-year campaign for justice led by her family and with the strong involvement of civil society groups, NGOs and European institutions. While the criminal proceedings initiated by the Maltese authorities solely focused on identifying those criminally responsible, the Public Inquiry took a broader approach and considered the circumstances of Daphne’s assassination, including the threats and vilification that she endured for speaking truth to power. The Public Inquiry’s final report painted a bleak picture of entrenched impunity for both the journalist’s murder and for the crimes she exposed. It clearly stated that the Maltese government had created a culture of impunity that led to Daphne’s murder and thus must bear responsibility.

A mechanism to investigate the failures of state entities and state impunity that may have contributed towards the assassination of a journalist, may help to fill the gaps the criminal justice system leaves open, as the parallel mechanism provides for public scrutiny of the state administration and executive. In Daphne’s case an independent inquiry was deemed necessary given the reasonable concerns about the weaknesses of the rule of law in Malta, which were previously flagged up by European bodies, specifically with regard to the potential bias of state officials whose wrongdoing Daphne had repeatedly highlighted.

Mechanisms such as a Public Inquiry can reach their full potential only when their recommendations are effectively implemented. Yet, a year since the publication of the Public Inquiry’s landmark findings, there has been hardly any concrete action or any legislation to provide an enabling environment for public interest journalism and to protect journalists.

While European countries routinely declare their commitment to uphold and protect press freedom, attempts to curtail independent media as well as various threats and attacks against journalists – in particular those reporting on issues of public interest – are on the rise, with the most tragic cases being assassinations. Across Europe, there are still at least 26 cases of impunity for the murder of journalists. The high level of impunity for crimes against journalists, including deadly attacks is indicative of a failing criminal justice system, and often of rule of law failure. There is a clear need for states to develop an investigative model to address the failures in their respective jurisdictions. “Tackling Impunity: Lessons from the Public Inquiry into the Assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia” could be a first step in this process.