No prisoner has yet abused a pilot project that introduced electronic tagging of sentenced prisoners and also those on parole, a court heard on Friday.
The project, introduced by the Prisons Director last year was at the centre of arguments on bail for George and Alfred Degiorgio, two of the alleged murderers of Daphne Caruana Galizia.
“It was our initiative. Is it perfect? Nothing is but so far we are very pleased... so far no one has abused of it,” Alex Dalli told the court.
He was testifying during a hearing of preliminary pleas to the upcoming trial of the Degiorgio brothers and the third suspect hitman, Vincent Muscat.
There is, as yet, no law regulating electronic tagging, but prison authorities have started monitoring inmates through anklets that are tracked from the prison’s control room.
“We took up the project to see if inmates can be trusted,” Dalli said, adding that a prisoner could be monitored while attending classes at university, enabling his reintegration in society.
“This was the first time that some inmates were allowed home for Christmas lunch,” he said, recalling the gratitude of one prisoner for whom this was the first Christmas with his teenage children.
The system, extended to those on parole, allowed for geofencing - a facility to restrict movement to locations that could be out of bounds for inmates.
“Obviously, that does not detect any person that the inmate comes across,” Madam Justice Edwina Grima remarked, pointing out that the current system did not apply to anyone under preventive arrest.
“You have no authority over persons who are under preventive arrest. That authority rest with the court,” madam justice Grima observed.
“I’ll bow to whatever needs to be done in this country,” Dalli said.
The judge went on to observe that if extended to people on bail, the system would call for 24/7 monitoring and moreover, there was no legislative framework in force.
Defence counsel William Cuschieri sought to surpass this hurdle by pointing out that the Degiorgios would be willing to abide by any court conditions and would even bind themselves to go back to prison for the night.
The Degiorgios have been under preventive custody for over two years and the gravity of the charges alone did not suffice to deny them bail.
Pointing out that both of the accused had a family, the lawyer explained how George’s partner, facing joint money-laundering charges, had been granted bail. Alfred Degiorgio had been acquitted in separate theft-related proceedings that dragged on for 18 years.
He had always abided by bail conditions then and had even filed a constitutional case over the delay, Cuschieri added.
Moreover, middleman Melvin Theuma’s recordings did not mention the Degiorgios and even so, consisted of technological evidence that had been preserved.
As in other cases of murder, including the AFM soldiers’ case, the court was to attain a balance between non-obstruction of the course of justice and the presumption of innocence, as well as the right to bail.
Even Judge Giovanni Grixti, in a previous decree, had remarked that the situation could not remain so indefinitely, argued the lawyer, adding that electronic tagging would provide the necessary reassurance.
However, when rebutting those arguments, Philip Galea Farrugia from the Office of the Attorney General, pointed out that according to the middleman’s testimony, money was exchanged even when the Degiorgios were in jail, “let alone outside”.
Tagging was a personal initiative of the Prisons Director and people under bail did not fall under his authority, he added.
As for geofencing, that could not ascertain that the tagged person would not be approached by any third party in any other unrestricted location, the lawyer pointed out.
The court declared that it would decide upon the bail application and deliver its decree in chambers.
Lawyer Simon Micallef Stafrace assisted Vincent Muscat.
Lawyer Jason Azzopardi was parte civile.