Updated | Jean Paul Sofia death: Court dismisses appeal challenging validity of suspects’ arrest

Two men, arrested in relation to the death of Jean Paul Sofia, filed proceedings against Attorey General, claiming they were illegally arrested after not being given the full inquiry report, only to have their request dismissed by court

Jean Paul Sofia
Jean Paul Sofia

Matthew Schembri and Kurt Buhagiar, who attempted to challenge the validity of their arrest, had their request dismissed by court.

Matthew Schembri and Kurt Buhagiar's lawyers contested their clients' arrest, in proceedings against Attorney General Victoria Buttigieg, claiming they were not provided with the full evidence that led to the arrests.

However, magistrate Ian Farrugia rejected this appeal in a decree issued on Saturday afternoon.

The judicial protest was filed by lawyers Franco Debono, Arthur Azzopardi, and Jacob Magri, claiming that Attorney General Victoria Buttigieg is “withholding evidence” from them and the police.

The two men in question had acquired a plot of land at Corradino Industrial Estate under a government lease and were constructing a timber factory on the site.

On Friday, the suspects were informed that the magisterial inquiry into the death of the construction victim, Jean Paul Sofia, had been concluded. Later that evening, at 8:30 pm, they were arrested together with three other suspects: Architect Adriana Zammit, contractor Miromir Milosovic, and his wife.

In response to their arrest, Schembri and Buhagiar's lawyers filed a court application on Saturday morning, arguing that the police had only provided them with the conclusions of the inquiry, as they themselves did not have access to the full inquiry report.

The lawyers also filed a court application requesting court to treat the proceedings with urgency.

During their hearing on Saturday morning, the defence contended that this limited disclosure did not constitute sufficient material evidence, as the conclusions merely reflected the inquiring magistrate's opinion.

This lack of evidence, they asserted, hindered their ability to adequately advise their clients during interrogations.

In his ruling, the magistrate stated that the inquiry report produced by the magistrate satisfies the criteria for adequate disclosure to the defence. 

He clarified that while the police did not currently possess all the evidence compiled during the inquiry, the Attorney General had access to it and would make it available to the defence at the appropriate time. 

He emphasized that the incomplete access to material evidence did not render the initial or ongoing arrest of Schembri and Buhagiar illegal, and therefore, he rejected the defence’s request.

Deputy Attorney General Philip Galea Farrugia refuted the defence’s claims, asserting that the arrest was perfectly valid as it was based on the conclusions of the magisterial inquiry. 

He confirmed that search and arrest warrants were obtained from the duty magistrate before apprehending the two suspects. 

He argued that the issue of disclosure was separate and did not affect the validity of the arrest, stating that the police received the inquiry report on Friday and subsequently made the arrests.

During the proceedings, the defence, argued that not providing the suspects with full disclosure violated a European directive, supported by judgments from the European Court of Human Rights, which grants suspects the right to disclosure to challenge the validity of their arrest and prepare their defence. 

Franco Debono further contested that while the initial arrest might have been valid, the continued arrest of the two men, while both the police and defence lawyers were still examining evidence, could potentially violate their rights. He urged that if this were the case, the suspects should be granted bail, and the defence should be given adequate time to examine the evidence against them.

Representing the prosecution were Police Inspector Paul Camilleri, assisted by lawyers Philip Galea Farrugia and Abigail Caruana Vella from the Attorney General's Office. 

Lawyers Franco Debono, Arthur Azzopardi, and Jacob Magri appeared on behalf of Buhagiar and Schembri. 

The presiding magistrate overseeing the hearing was Ian Farrugia.