Constitutional case filed over restrictions on Corradino prison press access

Manuel Delia files freedom of expression case over limited access prison visit

A journalist has filed a Constitutional case against the home affairs minister over restrictions imposed during a recent visit to the Corradino Correctional Facility.

Lawyers for Manuel Delia filed the court application to the First Hall of the Civil Court in its Constitutional jurisdiction, against minister Byron Camilleri, his permanent secretary, the director and CEO of Corradino Correctional Facility, the Head of Detention Services, the Principal Immigration Officer and the State Advocate.

Delia claimed that he had made eight formal requests to access the prison and detention centres to investigate and report on the veracity of claims of illegal behaviour, torture and inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners and detainees. Despite these requests, access was not given, he said.

He had filed further requests after it became known that a Bormla resident turned social media influencer, known colloquially as “Terry ta’ Bormla”, had successfully applied for access to visit the prison in a press capacity and had published posts on social media about it in August 2020.

Delia was subsequently informed that new protocols for prison visits had been put in place and he was allowed access on September 1. No such visit to the detention centres has yet been approved, adds the court application.

The visit took place after the press reported that immigrants involved in recent riots had been mistreated, tortured and subjected to degrading treatment in prison. The allegations are subject to magisterial inquiries, noted Delia’s lawyers, but also required serious journalistic scrutiny as they “reflected a failure in the prison administration.”

Delia complained that the restrictions imposed on his visit went beyond the reasonable parameters indicated in the access protocols. He was not given the opportunity to investigate allegations of overcrowding in cells, living conditions, access to hygiene and other factors, he said, adding that he was not allowed access to certain divisions.

“From this visit, [Delia] could only take the controlled and manipulated version given by Col. Dalli, who also confirmed the use of inhuman and degrading measures, such as the restraining chair in order to instil a culture of fear amongst the prisoners.”

At no point was he allowed to serve his role as a public watchdog on the situation in prison, argued the lawyers. This control over the flow of information was depriving the public from objective and balanced reporting on the conditions and treatment of detained immigrants and prisoners and had a chilling effect on independent investigation.

In the light of the serious allegations being made about the conditions, it was not correct to rest on the monopoly of information which the State had on this material of public interest.

Delia’s lawyers asked the court to declare that the actions of the defendants breached the fundamental right of freedom of expression and to order that he be given access to interview prisoners and detainees with the aim of finding the truth about the allegations, under the conditions which the court saw fit to impose.

He also asked the court to liquidate non-pecuniary damages.

Lawyers Paul Borg Olivier, Andrew Borg Cardona and Evelyn Borg Costanzi signed the application.

More in Court & Police