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Six months is 'too long' to be denied bail, lawyer for man accused of hiding woman's body says

A defence lawyer has lashed out at the fact that her client was still in custody without bail, six months after his arrest, during which time only three sittings had been held

Matthew Agius
24 July 2017, 2:28pm
The body of Eleanor Mangion Walker was found in a Qormi warehouse
The body of Eleanor Mangion Walker was found in a Qormi warehouse
A defence lawyer has lashed out at the fact that her client was still in custody without bail, six months after his arrest, during which time only three sittings had been held. 

The case against Kristian Zekic continued before magistrate Aaron Bugeja this morning after a hiatus of several weeks due to the court's other commitments.

Zekic is charged with procuring and making use of a false passport. He is also accused, in separate criminal proceedings before another magistrate, with hiding the body of murder victim Eleanor Mangin Walker. The false passport charge was made later after it emerged during the course of the investigation.  

Today, a representative from Jobs Plus told Magistrate Aaron Bugeja that he had been unable to trace any records for Zekic, but that he had found records for the accused’s alias: Adamjohn Niasov.

Lawyer Giannella De Marco, who is defending Zekic, together with lawyer Stephen Tonna Lowell, argued that no sittings had been held in this case since 28 March and that the accused had been in detention ever since he was first arrested.

According to the law, she said, the accused should go to court every two weeks in such cases but there hadn't been a sitting for four months and Zekic’s last application for bail had taken four weeks for a decision to be given. “Four weeks, with all due respect, is too long. Bail applications are by their nature urgent,” submitted the lawyer.

Every time an application had been filed, the accused had been given a "standard reply" by the court, she said: “for the reasons mentioned by the Attorney General in his reply, the court dismisses the request.”

But the accused had not been notified with the Attorney General’s objection, she said. Although there is no legal obligation to notify the accused with the objection, there was an obligation to give the reasons for which he is refused bail, De Marco argued.

"A person must be released pending trial unless the state can show justification for continued detention," she said, adding that this position had also been adopted by the European Court of Human Rights.

European jurisprudence was not favourable to decisions which were terse in nature, the defence said, before asking, a second time, for a referral to the Constitutional Court.

“I have seen the AG's objections to the constitutional referral which can be summarised as ‘the identity of the accused is unknown,’” the lawyer said.

"But the question of identity is not what the accused is charged with,” De Marco pointed out, adding that “they seem to already know the other identity -Adamjohn Niasov,” which had been highlighted by the prosecution in previous sittings. 

The lawyer described refusing bail on the grounds of the public interest as “ridiculous”. European jurisprudence has held that decisions against bail solely on the basis of the offence’s gravity, taken in the abstract were not acceptable, she said. “The fear of flight in the abstract is not a reason to doubt the presumption of innocence.”

“Time seems to be of no importance to the AG. But this is taken very seriously by the European court,” the lawyer remarked. “Time is of the essence to the person whose human rights are being violated.”

It takes eight months for an arrest to become illegal, De Marco argued. "He has been arrested for six and only one sitting had been held for evidence and one for submissions before the present application was filed."

“It is certainly not because of complications or a volume of witnesses,” De Marco said, repeating that the decree refusing the last bail request was given four weeks after the application was filed and did not specify why, other than to refer to the AG’s objections.

"I feel those objections are groundless and I feel a constitutional referral should be made.” This case should continue to be heard in the meantime, so as not to draw out the case further, the defence suggested.

Magistrate Aaron Bugeja announced that he would be issuing a decree from chambers. The case continues in August.

Court reporter Matthew Agius is a Legal Procurator and Commissioner for Oaths. Prior to re...