Youth, charged over assault on taxi driver, released on bail

A taxi driver was grievously injured, after being allegedly beaten up with brass knuckles by the accused

Taxi driver Joe Decelis Maksyuta said he was severely beaten up by the accused for no reason
Taxi driver Joe Decelis Maksyuta said he was severely beaten up by the accused for no reason

Lawyers for a British youth arraigned in court in connection with an assault on a taxi driver in which brass knuckles were allegedly used, have cast doubt on the accuracy of the charges against him, saying that the weapon alleged to have been used had not been found and pointing out that the accused had also been injured.

Salford-born Oliver Chandler Kassim, 19, from Mellieha was arraigned before magistrate Lara Lanfranco on Thursday afternoon by police Inspector George Frendo, charged with having attacked and grievously injured taxi driver Joe Decelis Maksyuta at around 3am on Wednesday. He was also accused of using a weapon to commit the offence.

No details of the incident emerged in today’s court sitting.

Kassim, who told the court that he worked in trade analysis, pleaded not guilty to the charges. Bail was requested by the defence. 

Lawyer Stefano Filletti, defence counsel together with lawyers Giannella De Marco and Maronia Magri, informed the court that the accused's parents were outside the courtroom in order to offer themselves as guarantors for the accused’s obedience to any bail conditions.

Prosecuting Inspector George Frendo said the accused had punched the victim for no reason, objecting to bail on this ground, together with the man’s ties to other countries and the fact that the victim was yet to testify in the proceedings.

There was a fear that the accused would interfere with the witnesses, said the inspector.

Filletti reminded the court that the fundamental right to liberty was enshrined in the constitution. The police’s powers to limit this were exceptions to the rule, which was “not cosmetic,” he said.

“The prosecution should be red in the face right now, trying to convince a court not to grant bail because the accused is presumed innocent. It is only when the prosecution brings sufficient evidence to justify continued detention that bail should be denied.”

“For some reason, the situation here is the opposite. The defence is red in the face trying to combat a possible fear. But are the fears rooted in any facts? The fact that there are witnesses yet to testify is not a factor in deciding on bail. If there was a risk of tampering with evidence, the prosecution should have summoned them today,” he said.

The victim has been released from hospital and had already released a number of interviews with the media, in particular NET news, pointed out the lawyer. “Therefore the alleged victim’s particulars are free to the whole world to see,” Filletti submitted.

“The accused does not know the victim and hasn’t contacted him since the incident. Do we know what the parte civile has said? Yes." A “social media lynch mob” was calling for the accused to be thrown out of the country or hanged, Filletti added.

The defence lawyer asked the court to order that the accused be photographed and medically examined by a court-appointed expert. "Although the alleged victim was claiming to have been attacked for no reason, the accused has a black eye and bruises across his back, which indicate the use of a weapon," Filletti submitted. “There is a lot more to be said about this case, but we know what the parte civile has to say,” quipped the lawyer.

“Had he wanted to hide, he would have gone to stay with a friend, but he was arrested at his parents’ home,” Filletti said, once again emphasising the willingness of the accused’s parents to put themselves on the line and bind themselves to the court.

“Arms proper,” observed the lawyer, reading from the charge sheet. “Strange, very strange…before the incident, before getting into the taxi, the accused was searched by the police as he had been suspected of being drunk. No weapon was found. He was released from police custody and took a taxi. Upon his arrest, no weapon was found. Why is the alleged victim saying he was attacked with a knuckleduster? There were no lacerations commonly found in such assaults.

The accused was now also receiving threats on social media, added Filletti.

“Just because you have been arraigned in court, you are not bound to undergo the 15-day jail experience,” submitted the lawyer, highlighing that the accused was "prepared to offer all possible guarantees for his obedience to bail conditions."

De Marco added that the seriousness of the charges was not a ground to preclude release from arrest. “Bail is a right, unless the prosecution proves to the level of probability...that there are reasons not to give bail,” said the lawyer, citing case law.

There were more serious offences than the ones being faced by the accused, she submitted, adding that both the accused and the victim had black eyes. 

With regards to the nationality of the accused, she said that the law did not use this criteria and only spoke of ties to the community. “He has family in Malta, works in Malta and lives in Malta.”

The accused was also just 19, submitted the lawyer, saying that detention was not ideal. The victim was also clearly not afraid to say his side of the story, as demonstrated by his press interviews and social media posts, submitted the lawyer.

The fear of tampering with evidence needed to be justified in order for bail to be refused on this ground, said De Marco.

The alleged victim did not appear to be a vulnerable person, added the lawyer, pointing out that the charges included a request for a protection order which the accused would be happy to submit to.

The prosecution argued that the accused was a “danger to society,” telling the court that it was the accused himself who had told the police that he would travel to and from Gibraltar for work purposes. There was a real fear that this would lead to justice not being served in this case, submitted the inspector.

"The least the court could do for the victim was provide peace of mind to the victim who has rights that the accused would not be allowed to approach him," said the inspector. Kassim spoke up at this point, telling the court that he hadn’t been to Gibraltar in years.

Filletti rebutted that the accused also had rights. "Had the prosecution been so fearful of the accused hunting down the alleged victim, he should have been summoned to testify today," argued the lawyer.

De Marco added that if there was such a fear, the first thing the inspector should have done was to get the victim to testify before a magisterial inquiry to preserve the evidence, but that this had not been done.

Magistrate Lara Lanfranco, having heard the parties’ submissions on bail, acceded to the request to release the man from arrest.

He was ordered to sign a bail book every day and observe a curfew.

Kassim’s release from arrest was secured by a deposit of €2,000 and a personal guarantee of €2,000.

A protection order was also issued in favour of the alleged victim. The court explained to the accused that he needed the court’s prior permission to travel abroad.