Court denies AG's last-minute request to delay Monday jury

The trial of Joseph Xuereb, accused of robbing three elderly women in 2012, grievously injuring one of them, scheduled to start on Monday, was nearly delayed by the AG's urgent request for the trial to be put off sine die 

Madame Justice Edwina Grima turned down a last-minute request to exhibit more evidence
Madame Justice Edwina Grima turned down a last-minute request to exhibit more evidence

A judge has rejected a last-minute request by the Attorney General to delay a trial that was due to start on Monday, saying the public prosecutor had already been granted four years to present his evidence.

The trial of Joseph Xuereb from Birzebbugia, who is accused of robbing three elderly women in 2012 and grievously injuring one of them, was due to start on Monday. But yesterday, just two working days before the trial was due to begin, the AG had filed an urgent court application, asking for the trial to be put off sine die (with no appointed date for resumption) as it needed to exhibit more evidence.

On 6 October, the public prosecutor had requested court permission to exhibit CCTV footage that had been in the possession of the prosecuting official since 2012 but that somehow had never been presented in court, as well as the victim's ID which had not been exhibited either. It also asked for a medical expert to be appointed to evaluate the permanence or otherwise of the injuries suffered by the victim.

This tactic did not go down well with Xuereb's lawyers Franco Debono and Arthur Azzopardi, who filed an indignant reply the next day.

“With all due respect, what the AG is requesting goes against the spirit of our judicial process. If it is upheld, it would mean the end of the procedure of compilation of evidence in our country, there is no longer any need for it, we don't need to follow the Criminal Code and all the other rules of procedure.”

The lawyers argued that the legislator had not limited the number of times that parties could re-examine witnesses and noted that in this case, the AG had demanded further examinations of witnesses no less than 19 times.

“The AG had all the time in the world...Nobody told him what to do and what not to do, how much time to take and how much not to. He chose to close the compilation of evidence after three years, nobody forced him, nobody rushed him.”

In a decree issued earlier today, Madame Justice Edwina Grima upheld the defence's arguments.

The point of compilation proceedings, the court pointed out, is to gather all the evidence so that when the Bill of Indictment is issued, all material evidence would be preserved and the accused would be afforded a clear picture of the evidence against him.

Not only had the AG indicated that the compilation of evidence was not completed well, but also that not even in the years between the issuing of the Bill of Indictment and the appointing of the jury were these shortcomings brought to his attention.

“The sections of the law cited, certainly were not enacted to shelter the prosecution from its shortcomings,” ruled the judge. Neither could the AG use those sections to throw the ensuing problems into the lap of the courts.

“This is not a situation where the AG found himself unable to present this evidence, but one caused through lack of attention to what was being done in the compilation stages – a fault solely attributable to the prosecution. This shortcoming should not result in prejudice to the accused.”