Debono claims breach of fair trial after President attended police solidarity march

Man accused of attempted murder of police constable says President’s actions could have shaped public opinion against him


Liam Debono's lawyers argued that the President's attendance in a solidarity march has influenced actions against him
Liam Debono's lawyers argued that the President's attendance in a solidarity march has influenced actions against him

The lawyers for Liam Debono, who is accused of the attempted murder of police constable Simon Schembri, have filed a judicial protest claiming that the accused’s right to a fair trial was breached when the President attended a police solidarity march.

Liam Debono is accused of running over Schembri and dragging him for several metres, causing him serious injuries and a 66% permanent disability as certified by an orthopaedic surgeon.

The judicial protest, filed by Liam Debono’s defence lawyers Franco Debono and Amadeus Cachia, argues that the march in solidarity with the police, which was held on 19 May and attended by President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, was clearly organised in the context of the incident which lead to the accused being charged with the crime against Schembri.

The solidarity march is therefore “intrinsically and intimately” linked to the fact which brought forward the accusations against Liam Debono, the judicial protest claims, and the fact that it was attended by the President meant that she had already publicly taken sides in the case, which could lead to the protestant’s rights having been breached.

It goes on to underline that any person accused of a crime has the right for a fair hearing by an independent and impartial court, and is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

The President, it says, is expected to not participate in anything which is controversial, and “nothing could be more controversial than ongoing criminal action in court”.

The judicial protest goes on to claim that the President’s participation in the solidarity march, because of the moral authority which the office she occupies has, can easily create “irredeemable prejudice” towards the accused, since it could shape public opinion. The context for this is that the jurors in the eventual trial would have to be chosen from the general public, if the case goes on to a trial by jury.

The fact that the President also presides over the Commission for the Administration of justice, the judicial protest argues, could further prejudice the rights of the accused for a fair trial.

The President had declared her position, by attending the march, before the case had been decided nor even heard, it said.

It has to be determined by the trial whether the “unfortunate episode” was not precipitated due to some lack of judgement or non-observance of best practices by the victim, the judicial protest puts forward - leading to him having moved into the oncoming car’s path – and not by a trial by the media.

It goes on to say that the President had taken sides in the incident in a way which can irrevocably prejudice the accused’s right to a fair trial, before the facts related to Liam Debono’s upbringing had emerged.

Liam Debono could probably qualify as a “social case par excellence”, it says, going so far as to point out that during the time that the accused was growing up and going through certain difficulties, the President had at that time occupied the position of social policy minister. “This case could therefore be an indication of a particular failure of the educational and social system, in the context that [Liam Debono’s] family nucleus did not sustain him adequately,” it highlights.

The judicial protest also makes reference to the ongoing Paqpaqli accident case, pointing out that the President is personally involved in the pending civil procedures on the incident, and on the ongoing criminal case.

The President’s participation in the march could also have prejudiced Liam Debono’s presumption of innocence, “converting this into a presumption of guilt”, whereby society, including the President, had already made up their mind before the case started being heard.

The judicial protest adds that the protestant is reserving his rights to undertake ulterior procedures to determine the consequence of the breaching of the right to a fair trial on the final outcome of the criminal proceedings.

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