Six months is not that long to wait for justice

While the mills of our own justice system grind exceedingly slow... and not always exceedingly small, either... it remains a fact that ‘six months’ would be an unrealistic expectation in any jurisdiction, anywhere in the world

Ask Karin Grech’s family: they’ve been waiting a lot longer than that. Forty-one years, to be precise: probably longer than some people reading this have even been alive. And throughout all that time... not a single arrest was ever made. Not a single suspect has ever been charged with that poor girl’s murder in a court of law: still less tried and convicted, with the conviction upheld on appeal... a process which would probably take another 41 years at least, if it ever got started at all.

The sad truth, however, is that we all know this process will never get started, because nobody (apart from the bereaved family) is still remotely interested in demanding ‘justice’ for Karin Grech: a 15-year-old girl blown to bits in the hallway of her own home, by a letter-bomb addressed to her father (which also means, however you choose to cut it, that she was killed because of her family’s political leanings. Nothing more, nothing less).

Then there was Raymond Caruana, killed by unidentified hoodlums who peppered the facade of a Nationalist party club with machine-gun fire in 1986. Like Karin Grech, Caruana was an innocent victim of Malta’s culture of political violence and hatred: had he not been a Nationalist supporter, he would not have been closing up the bar at that particular kazin when the drive-by shooting happened. All other things remaining equal, he would be alive and in his mid-50s today... roughly the same age as Karin Grech... if political hatred hadn’t so brutally snuffed his life out 32 long years ago.

Fast-forward three decades, and oh look: we are no closer to solving the case than we were when the late Pietru Pawl Busuttil was framed for it in 1987. Where is the justice for Raymond Caruana, all these years later? Where is the closure in this case... without which there can never be anything even remotely resembling ‘justice’ to begin with?

And yet, strangely, while everyone seems to have given up hope of justice in either of those cases... there is suddenly an entire groundswell of popular sentiment out there which seems to think that ‘six months’ is simply too long to wait for justice in another murder case... one in which, by the way, three people have already been arrested, and are being tried in court even as we speak.

Well, I guess the new buzz-word slogan must be right: this is not a ‘normal country’. For starters, six months would be a tad ambitious to expect ANY crime to be thoroughly adjudicated, in any country’s legal system. It usually takes longer than that just for the prosecution to compile its case... when it has a case to compile, which normally happens a lot later than six months after the crime.

Even then: before we can talk about ‘justice being served’, the entire judicial process will still have to run its course. How long does that usually take? It depends. People have been known to wait years (sometimes spending the entire duration in prison, even though they haven’t yet been charged) for their cases to even begin... let alone reach a verdict – which, on average, takes around a decade anyway – only for the ruling to then be appealed, adding a few more years to the total.

And while the mills of our own justice system grind exceedingly slow... and not always exceedingly small, either... it remains a fact that ‘six months’ would be an unrealistic expectation in any jurisdiction, anywhere in the world. Ironically, this was illustrated by none other than the recent arrest of Pilatus chairman Ali Sadr Hasheminijad... for crimes he allegedly committed between 2006 and 2010.

Oddly enough, the same people who now complain that ‘six months is too long to wait’ hold up that particular arrest as a classic example of how things should be done in a ‘serious jurisdiction’. Well, it took the FBI more than eight years to conduct its investigation, and uncover enough evidence to finally arrest Hasheminejad... and (a minor detail that everyone seems to have overlooked)... he still has to be tried for those crimes in a court of law. We still cannot talk about ‘justice being served’ in that case; and something tells me we still won’t be able to in a mere six months’ time, either.

Be that as it may: what this case (and any other) exemplifies is that no serious legal jurisdiction can possibly be expected to conclude a criminal investigation in such an unreasonably short time-frame. To expect otherwise is to totally disregard the existence of the entire judicial process... a strange thing to disregard, if you’re also going to claim that you are motivated by a ‘desire for justice’.

But six months is unrealistic for another reason: one which takes us back to the unsolved Karin Grech murder of 1977. Incredibly, the magisterial inquiry into that murder was actually opened in 1979 (two whole years after the event) and – even more incredibly – it is still technically ongoing today, 39 years later. And the list of incredible details just keeps getting longer and longer. Did you know that the Karin Grech inquiry is, at present, entrusted to Magistrate Aaron Bugeja... who took it over from Antonio Mizzi when the latter was appointed judge in 2013?

The same Aaron Bugeja is simultaneously also conducting the magisterial inquiry into Daphne Caruana Galizia’s Egrant allegations... which, by an interesting coincidence, will turn exactly one year old this Friday.

Yes, that’s right: the Egrant inquiry was instituted on April 20, 2017.  And, by an amazing coincidence, we seem to be no nearer a conclusion than we were one whole year ago. (I need hardly add that one year equals 12 months equals exactly twice the length of time that so many people seem to think the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder investigation should have been all wrapped up by now. But you probably worked that out for yourselves already).

There is, however, a crucial difference between those scenarios. For all the reasons outlined above, murder investigations can and do take a long time to produce results. In the Egrant case, however, we can indeed talk about an unacceptable delay in the delivery of justice. One year really is unaccountably long, for a magisterial inquiry tasked only with determining the ownership of a single company, and whether or not a single cash deposit had ever been effected into its (alleged) bank account.

So... how long will it take Magistrate Aaron Bugeja to conclude this inquiry, anyway? Another year? Another 39 years, as was the case with the Karin Grech inquest (conducted by the same magistrate for the past five years)? An eternity...?

I don’t know, but however long it takes will almost certainly feel a lot longer, when also you take into consideration the irreparable damage inflicted to Malta’s international reputation as a result of the selfsame allegations (and, more pointedly, our collective failure to ever prove or disprove them once and for all). Just look at how the resulting culture of speculation, suspicion and prejudice has poisoned almost every aspect of life in this country in the meantime... and just imagine how much worse it’s going to get, when the same inquiry drags on another year... then another again, etc.

But then... who’s protesting about the utterly intolerable year-long wait for the outcome of the Egrant magisterial inquiry? Nobody, that I can see. It seems we’re all far too busy protesting that ‘six months’ is too long to wait for an investigation that – in any serious jurisdiction, anywhere in the world – might conceivably take years to conclude.

‘Not a normal country’, you say? No indeed. Not by a long, long chalk...

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