Lawyers for Caruana Galizia murder suspects accused of ‘forum shopping’ as they again ask for bail

Just last week, the same court presided over by another judge turned down a request by the lawyers of the three men accused of murdering Daphne Caruana Galizia, for their clients to be released on bail

The accused have been trying to secure bail by filing repeated requests with different judges
The accused have been trying to secure bail by filing repeated requests with different judges

Lawyers defending the three suspects accused of murdering journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia have been accused by the Attorney General’s office, of “forum shopping” after they filed new proceedings before the constitutional court requesting bail for their clients. 

Last week, the constitutional court presided over by Judge Giovanni Grixti turned down an identical request for George Degiorgio, iċ-Ċiniż; Alfred Degiorgio, il-Fulu and Vince Muscat known as il-Koħħu, to be granted bail, arguing that the court was not convinced that the accused were likely to stick to their bail conditions. 

All of the men’s previous requests for bail have been turned down by the courts.

Lawyer William Cuschieri, appearing on behalf of all three men in the absence of George Degiorgio and Vince Muscat’s lawyers, said that no evidence had been brought forward to justify fears that the three men would not respect any bail conditions imposed on them. 

Cuschieri noted that since the three men had been arrested, the compilation of evidence against them had proceeded at a fast rate, with the court hearing the testimony of over 100 witnesses. 

“The evidence being put forward by the prosecution is strictly about technology and mobile phones and cell towers. We don’t have a smoking gun,” Cuschieri said. 

He said that over the course of the compilation, the prosecution had called very few witnesses that were not experts or public officials who were describing their involvement in the investigation and what they found at the scene of the crime. 

Moreover, Cuschieri stressed that law allowed him to file an application within 24 hours. 

“If the law allows me to do so and I am not abusing I don’t have to justify it to anyone,” he said. “It's not the case that we are forum shopping, but we are saying there are grounds for another application to be filed.”

He insisted that there were no witnesses left to testify, who the accused could interfere with, and that the fear of them absconding needed to be considered within the context of them having families and a life in Malta. 

Furthermore, Cuschieri referred to a European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) judgment stating that the severity of the crime was not enough to justify a prolonged period of detention. 

Referring to Judge Grixti’s decision, Cuschieri said that only one concern had been mentioned: that the three men would not abide by the conditions placed on them by the court. “We are hypothesising about something which might happen in the future. We can’t, a priori, decide that someone will  breach their bail conditions.”

He pointed out that Alfred Degiorgio had signed a bail book for 18 years in relation to one particular case and was then acquitted. “All three have had cases in the past where bail was granted, and they always respected the conditions of their bail.”

However, in reply, the AG’s office stressed that the same court had handed down a decision on the same case, with the latest application having been filed 24 hours later. 

“There is one criminal court. We have one, and it was the same one that 24 hours earlier refused bail,” the AG’s office  said, stressing that  nothing had changed since the last decision. 

The AG’s office noted that the court was obliged to treat each case separately and according to its own merits, adding that while the seriousness of the case alone couldn’t justify refusing bail, this needed to be considered within the context of a possible tampering of evidence  and absconding, among others.  

Furthermore, the AG’s office reiterated that a magisterial inquiry into Caruana Galizia’s murder was still ongoing and that there is still the possibility that third parties could be charged. “An inquiry is secret, so we can’t say who we may or may not be charging.”

Citing ECHR guidelines, the AG’s office said that pre-trial detention could be justified if, given the seriousness of the crime, granting bail would result in public disturbance. 

Furthermore, it was noted that the accused had a past criminal record, indicating that they were not trustworthy.

Cuschieri insisted that the case was no different to others before it and that based on the arguments being made, “the three accused, and many others like them” would never be granted bail. 

On the argument that the accused being released would create a social disturbance, Cuschieri stressed that this was not in the criminal code and should therefore not be considered. “As if the decree for bail is given to us by the media or people in the street”

Finally, regarding the fact that a third party might still be charged in relation to the case, Cuschieri said that if that were the case it would be another issue but “so far it has all been about mobile numbers and cell towers”.

Ultimately, he said, the court needed to strike a balance between what was in the public interest and the presumption of innocence.

The three men will now await the judge’s decree.

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