Judge slated to preside Gozo murder trial ordered to stand aside after lawyers impugn her allocation

Lawyers claim the trial judge had been assigned ‘in an irregular way,’ and threatened to ‘initiate alternative procedures at the right moment’

Judge Edwina Grima (Photo: Ray Attard/mediatoday)
Judge Edwina Grima (Photo: Ray Attard/mediatoday)

A judge assigned to preside over the trial of a man indicted for murder has been replaced by the Chief Justice, after defence lawyers impugned the method through which the case was assigned to her.

Earlier this month, lawyers for Aleksandar Stojanovic, the man accused of murdering 42-year-old Walid Salah Abdel Moteleb Mohamed in Gozo five years ago, requested the recusal of madam justice Edwina Grima, before whom Stojanovic was due to go on trial.

Mohamed, an Egyptian father of two, had been found in a field in Għarb, Gozo, dead, having suffered shotgun wounds to his neck and chest.

Stojanovic, a Serbian national, is also accused of carrying a weapon without the necessary licence, driving a car without a licence or necessary insurance, and of being in possession of a vehicle which was not properly registered with Transport Malta. He denies the charges.

In an application filed last week before the Criminal Court, defence lawyers Jose’ Herrera, Franco Debono and Francesca Zarb, had asked that Judge Edwina Grima refrain from presiding over this case.

The lawyers claimed that the trial judge had been assigned “in an irregular way,” and threatened to “initiate alternative procedures at the right moment.”

In parallel with this request, Stojanovic’s lawyers also filed a Constitutional case, in view of the fact that the defendant had no ordinary legal remedy to challenge the legality of his arrest, after the bill of indictment had been issued. 

The legal impossibility of challenging the legality of an arrest after the Bill of Indictment is issued constituted a breach of Stojanovic’s fundamental rights, argued the lawyer.

But the Constitutional application also alleged that Stojanovic had suffered “an element of prejudice” in view of the fact that the registrar for Courts and Criminal Tribunals, whose administrative responsibility includes assigning cases to judges, had been the trial judge’s deputy registrar for the previous five years.

From a decree of abstention handed down by madam justice Grima yesterday, it would appear that Chief Justice Mark Chetcuti chose to intervene, declaring that the assignment of the case to be invalid as it had not been carried out according to law, effectively ordering the judge to desist from presiding over the case.

“Having seen the Order of the Chief Justice of today the 13th of June, 2023, since the assignment of duties was not carried out according to law and is consequently invalid, the Court as presided abstains from taking further cognizance of the case and remits the case to the Registrar of Courts for the case to be assigned to this Court as otherwise presided as directed by the said Order,” reads the decree.