George Degiorgio cancellation request on tapping warrant finds no favour in court

Constitutional Court rejects Degiorgio request for cancellation of decree ordering Security Service to exhibit a copy of the warrant authorising phone taps targeting him

Murder suspect George Degiorgio being led out of court. (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)
Murder suspect George Degiorgio being led out of court. (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)

The Constitutional Court has rejected George Degiorgio’s request for the cancellation of a decree in which it had ordered the Head of Malta’s Security Service to exhibit a copy of the warrant authorising phone taps targeting him.

George Degiorgio, together with his brother Alfred, are currently awaiting trial, having been indicted for carrying out the 2017 murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. 

Degiorgio has since admitted to the killing in an interview with Reuters, but is still in the process of negotiating a plea deal with the Attorney General. His statement to the international press has no bearing on criminal proceedings as the admission was not made in court.

The constitutional case decided yesterday stems from a decision handed down last year in another constitutional court, awarding the now self-confessed hitman €10,000 for a breach to his right to privacy and family life, after it emerged the phone taps were made on the strength of an expired warrant issued in February 2017. 

The security agency had refused Degiorgio’s request for a copy of the warrant in question, a refusal deemed justified by the court at both first instance and the Constitutional court.

It was only during the appeal filed by MSS against that judgement, before the Constitutional Court, that the agency changed tack and agreed to submit should the court order it to exhibit the warrant for evidentiary purposes.

This fact was also pointed out by the judges, who noted that while the head of MSS had told the first court the law prohibited him from exhibiting the warrant, leading that court to reject Degiorgio’s request for the presentation of the document, during the hearing of the appeal, the MSS chief had reversed his position, stating that he would comply with a court order to exhibit the warrant.

But this volte-face by MSS was met with suspicion by Degiorgio’s lawyer, who had filed an application the next day, requesting the court revoke its order, suggesting that any warrant exhibited would be unlikely to be genuine and arguing that his client “will never have peace of mind that the documents exhibited represent the truth.”

“This Court gave a clear order on 20 July 2020 and at this stage, it has no reason to change the position it had taken, that the onus of proof was on the head of MSS. The plaintiff complains that this court did not remain independent and impartial and did the job of the head of MSS when it ordered him to exhibit the documents that he had been supposed to exhibit before the court of first instance,” argued Degiorgio’s lawyer, William Cuschieri.

In a decree handed down on Monday, the Constitutional Court, presided by Chief Justice Mark Chetcuti, Mr. Justice Giannino Caruana Demajo and Mr. Justice Anthony Ellul responded to Degiorgio’s application, which had been filed the day after the same judges had ruled it was essential that they be shown the warrant in question before handing down judgement.

“In fact, before the first court it had been the plaintiff himself who requested the head of MSS exhibit the warrant. On the other hand, the position of the head of MSS changed at the appeal stage, as previously explained,” said the judges.

“This court cannot discard such a development taking place at the appeal stage, irrespective of what it had said in its decision of the 20th July 2020, with reference to the application filed by the plaintiff before the first court, in which he had requested it order the head of MSS exhibit the warrant about which he had testified during the sitting of January 8, 2020. A stage at which the head of MSS was still refusing to exhibit the relative documents.

“Although the plaintiff argues that now that the documents had been exhibited, he would not have the opportunity to ensure that they reflect the truth, the court disagrees. The plaintiff will be given the opportunity to see the documents exhibited by the head of MSS and, afterwards, make the requests he deems are necessary to his interests.”

The judges also rejected another argument put forward by Degiorgio - that the documents were not crucial to the case, because his complaint was also directed at certain dispositions of the  Security Service Act - ruling that they were indeed relevant to his complaint about their legality.

The Constitutional Court therefore denied the plaintiff’s request to revoke its 4 May decree.