Marsa man's arrest for grievous bodily harm declared invalid

Man's arrest declared illegal because magistrate was not immediately informed of the arrest

A young man from Marsa, arraigned today and accused of grievously injuring his ex-girlfriend’s new partner, has been unconditionally released from arrest after his arrest was declared illegal on a technicality.

Halejandro Edwardo Zammit, 21, appeared in the dock before Magistrate Lara Lanfranco on Monday, charged with inflicting grievous body harm. 

Inspector Sarah Kathleen Zerafa explained that at around 4pm yesterday, another young man had gone to the Marsa police station, his face covered in blood, to report that his ex-girlfriend's new partner had assaulted him. The victim was sent to hospital by ambulance where he was later confirmed to have been grievously injured.

“[The victim] was covered in blood and we understood that the argument to have been a dispute over access to a child which escalated to physical violence”.

But minutes after the victim arrived at the station, Zammit had also gone to the police station, to report that the man had assaulted him too.  Zammit was arrested.

Zammit’s lawyers, Franco Debono and Andreana Zammit, challenged the validity of the arrest.

Answering a question from the defence, the inspector said that Zammit had gone to the police station at around 4:10pm, while the victim was still filing his report. “Family members were there too, there was a big commotion.” Zammit was arrested between five and ten minutes later, she said.

Lawyer Franco Debono also asked whether the man had gone to the police station voluntarily. The police inspector confirmed that this was the case, explaining that the defendant had gone to the police station to see whether Mallia was there.

The duty magistrate was informed of the arrest at 8:20pm, said the inspector in reply to another question from the defence.

At that point, Debono asked the court to declare the arrest to be illegal, citing a section of the criminal code which stipulates that where a police inspector “had a reasonable suspicion that the person who attended voluntarily at the police station or office may have committed an offence subject to imprisonment, he may arrest such person forthwith without warrant and inform him accordingly. The time of the arrest shall be immediately recorded and immediate notice thereof shall be given to a Magistrate.”

“The Criminal Code intends that when a person is arrested in normal circumstances, the duty magistrate must be informed within 6 hours of the arrest. But the law makes a distinction when the person voluntarily attends the police station, and it requires that the duty magistrate be informed immediately. I don’t think that four hours is immediate and therefore the arrest must be declared as not being in accordance with the law.”

Inspector Zerafa argued that while it was true that Zammit had gone to the police station out of his own free will, he had not gone to file a report. The reason why the magistrate was not immediately informed of the arrest was because the hospital had taken a long time to certify the injuries as grievous. Had the injuries been slight, there would not be reason to detain the suspect, said the inspector. She had told the duty magistrate the timings and was told that it “wasn’t a problem,” said the inspector.

The Magistrate asked whether Zammit would not have been arraigned if the injuries had been slight. “Yes,” replied the inspector. “Because of the nature of the charges, we have many cases of slight injuries, unless there are other offences coinciding with it.”

Debono countered that all of this was irrelevant. “The law doesn’t speak of slight or grievous, but of voluntary attendance. The inspector’s submissions are totally and absolutely irrelevant because they aren't according to the law… Just because the police are waiting for a medical certificate doesn’t mean they have dispensation from following the law.” Neither did the law require a reason for the person’s voluntary attendance at the police station, argued the lawyer.

“The time of the arrest shall be immediately recorded and immediate notice thereof shall be given to a Magistrate,” Debono read. 

Inspector Zerafa insisted that Zammit had not given information, but had only asked for the other man. “So he didn’t come to give us information. He literally said nothing. So I just left him there…The magistrate didn’t tell me to let him go or that anything was wrong, I informed her of all the timings and facts and she authorised me to continue.”

Debono insisted that he wasn’t interpreting the law, just reading from it. “The word immediate means immediate…The legislator intended that in cases of voluntary attendance, the arrest must be immediate. It also stipulates that a person making a voluntary attendance “shall not be kept in any place normally used for the detention of arrested persons.” He was kept at the lockup.”

The court, after hearing the submissions on the validity of the arrest and the circumstances which had led to his arrest, in the light of the relevant articles of the Criminal Code, declared the man’s arrest invalid and ordered his immediate release. The compilation of evidence against him will continue, regardless.