Magistrate questions prosecution request for family court evidence in Bernice Cassar murder case

The prosecutor accusing Roderick Cassar of murdering his wife was sent to the dock and threatened with contempt of court after objecting to Magistrate Joe Mifsud's criticism on her handling of the case

The prosecutor accusing Roderick Cassar of murdering his wife was ordered to stand in the dock next to the defendant and threatened with being found in contempt today after she objected to a magistrate’s criticism of her handling of the case.

The femicide case against Roderick Cassar, who stands accused of fatally shooting his estranged wife, Bernice, continued before Magistrate Joe Mifsud this morning.

A court expert was the first witness, testifying about CCTV footage and data extracted from mobile phones. This information had led to the construction of a timeline of events, he said.

Next to take the stand was the Director and Registrar, Civil Courts and Tribunals, Etienne Scicluna. Prosecutor Angele Vella, representing the Office of the Attorney General, asked the witness about a request to exhibit the records of mediation proceedings between Bernice and Roderick Cassar.

Scicluna replied that he was waiting for a ruling by the Family Court on whether he could  exhibit the records in this case.

Vella suggested that, after obtaining permission from Madam Justice Abigail Lofaro, who is presiding over those proceedings, the witness should bind himself to exhibit a copy of the application which gave rise to the mediation proceedings.

But at this point, the magistrate asked why the prosecution needed the registrar of the Civil Courts to testify.

The prosecutor attempted to reply, saying that the mediation proceedings would provide evidence of what it believes is the motive behind the murder of the mother of two: that Roderick Cassar refused to accept that the victim had filed for separation. Her reply was drowned out by the magistrate.

But Magistrate Joe Mifsud rebuked the prosecutor for making the request at this stage of proceedings, accusing the AG of “sleeping on” the case.

He then interrupted the prosecutor as she was explaining her position, telling her that this could have been done in previous sittings. “If this had happened in the beginning we would have appointed an expert then and now we would be wrapping up the proceedings.”

“If you wanted this evidence, you should have exhibited it at the beginning of the case,” Mifsud said, adding that this practice was a contributing factor in the Office of the Attorney General losing recent trials by jury.

“With all due respect, this is not the forum to discuss these issues…” began Vella, but was interrupted by the magistrate. “We need evidence of the beginning of separation proceedings because it was the catalyst for the murder,” the prosecutor insisted, her voice rising.

“You will not speak like this in my courtroom, otherwise get out!” shouted the magistrate, ordering Vella to stand in the dock beside the accused, saying he would teach prosecutors a lesson “find [her] in contempt once and for all.”

Vella obeyed the order and proceeded to stand in the dock, where she weathered an unusually harsh dressing-down from the magistrate.

The prosecutor apologised and then explained that the reason why she wanted to exhibit the acts of the mediation proceedings was to support the prosecution’s argument that the victim had sought a marital separation from Roderick Cassar.

The magistrate appeared to relent and in the end did not declare the prosecutor to be in contempt of court.

The case will continue in August.

Lawyer Franco Debono is assisting the defendant. Lawyers Stefano Filletti, Marita Pace Dimech, Anne Marie Cutajar and Rodianne Sciberras are appearing as parte civile.