Lawyer makes tactful critique of grandstanding magistrates

A veteran lawyer has lashed out at his client's continued detention, a full month after his arraignment

A veteran lawyer defending an unemployed man charged with a number of thefts from service stations, has lashed out at his client's continued detention, a full month after his arraignment.

Dennis Cremona, 42, from Marsa, was charged with stealing cash from a service station in Attard on three separate occasions in July. He is also accused of theft from another petrol station in Ghaxaq during the night of 6 July. He is also charged with causing voluntary damage to third party property during the aggravated thefts and with relapsing.

Before the Court of Criminal Appeal this morning, defence lawyer Joseph Brincat requested bail after this had been denied both upon his arraignment as well as after the case's second sitting. The lawyer saw red when in the last sitting a police inspector simply read out a list of witnesses that didn't link the accused to the crime.

During his arraignment the court had been told that the accused had to take care of his elderly mother who had recently been uprooted from her home by her landlord, thanks to a clause in her lease agreement.

Brincat, a former cabinet minister, was characteristically diplomatic in his criticism of magistrates who seek public acclaim. “Magistrates are efficient when they talk less, are not try to shake towers across the country. It is the serenity of the audience, big ears, with its tongue restrained. I've been around for a while...I couldn't take the court telling me 'does he have a privilege because he's arrested?'” he said.

“To make things easier for the police we started putting off hearings for arrested people in six week chunks. Here we have a charge of alleged theft of €60 and €60 and he is kept in custody all this time. This morning I filed an application in another case for a man on bail to go abroad. That is no problem. But not him.”

CCTV footage allegedly connecting Cremona to the crime had not yet been exhibited to the court, meaning that as yet there was not enough prima facie evidence to support him continued arrest. Brincat stressed that the presumption of innocence could not be ignored, despite Cremona’s criminal record. The prima facie requirement was intended as the initial filter against lack of evidence.

“If he is not given bail, it is an illegal arrest. The lawfulness of an arrest must continue for the duration.” A number of EU court sentences against Malta supported this assertion, he said.

Lawyer Justine Cilia from the office of the Attorney General retorted that illegal arrest did not figure in his request for bail. The prima facie argument could not be raised at this stage and didn't appear to have been contested.

The AG was objecting to bail because of the serious nature of the crime – theft from several petrol stations and voluntary damage, she said. “He is also a repeat offender who has been found guilty of similar offences in the past. In the opinion of the Attorney General, if granted bail, there was a risk that he would commit similar offences."

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