Court declines to stop witness from testifying in Caruana Galizia case

Accused in Caruana Galizia assassination do not want court expert to testify, but a court has refused to recognise their alleged breach of fair hearing

From left: Alfred Degiorgio and Vincent Muscat, and second from right, George Degiorgio
From left: Alfred Degiorgio and Vincent Muscat, and second from right, George Degiorgio

A judge has declined to exercise his Constitutional powers and prevent a witness from testifying, in a case filed by the men accused of the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Brothers George and Alfred Degiorgio stand accused together with Vince Muscat with Caruana Galizia’s homicide. The compilation of evidence regarding the murder continues tomorrow, with the testimony of court appointed IT expert Dr. Martin Bajada, who assisted in the inquiry.

But the accused do not want Bajada to testify and have tried several Constitutional avenues to prevent this from happening. The latest, filed with urgency two days ago, contends that allowing Bajada to testify would breach their right to a fair hearing.

Before Mr. Justice Toni Abela today, lawyer Victoria Buttigieg from the Office of the Attorney General explained that the case had its origins in a decree of the Court of Magistrates as a court of criminal inquiry. “The next sitting is on March 1, and instead of filing as soon as they could, they left it for a week and then filed an urgent application.

“This is the ninth case from the same compilation of evidence,” she said, denouncing the action as an “abuse of procedure and the Constitution.” The court should deplore the abuse of Constitutional procedure, she said, as it was up to the court to stop these things from happening.

Defence lawyer William Cuschieri argued that if the court decided the matter today, it would deprive the men of their right to appeal, as the Bajada sitting is tomorrow and there would be no time for the appeal to be filed, much less heard. He requested an interim measure to regulate the matter until a final decision is made.

In March last year, he explained, two Constitutional cases were filed over Bajada, together with a request for an interim measure. This last request had been provisionally upheld and then later repealed. Cuschieri had filed an appeal to the Constitutional Court.

“If the decree is given effect and Martin Bajada testifies tomorrow, there will be a breach of the provisional decree and I will have no remedy left. We might disagree on whether the decree is still valid but not that an appeal be reduced to nothing.”

“If the court is going to hear Bajada tomorrow, this will exhaust the merits of the case. Effectively that is the bottom line and it is irremediable. I am saying don’t prejudice my right to have an interim measure,” he said. It would be a “clear breach” of human rights if Bajada took the stand tomorrow when he had a sitting scheduled for April 8 in the case meant to prevent him from testifying.

Buttigieg rebutted the argument, saying that the courts had already stated that there would be no prejudice if the witness testifies. “Strictly speaking, the merits of this appeal are already exhausted,” she added.

Mr. Justice Abela had then postponed the sitting for a decision later today. When the court reconvened at 7:40pm, he said there were two types of decrees, irreversible and reversible. It is only the first type which could prejudice the case. The court said it disagreed that it would be irreversible to have Bajada testify.

However, said the judge, the potential for an effective remedy was still available before the Constitutional courts and so he declined to exercise his powers.

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