A judge on Wednesday flagged the need for electronic tagging of those facing criminal proceedings, in a decree related to an alleged hit and run incident in Żejtun. 

Madam Justice Consuelo Scerri Herrera made the call in a decree granting bail to Dean Donovan Frendo, a 23-year-old who stands accused of causing the death of Antoine Degabriele last month in Żejtun.

The lifeless body of the victim was discovered on the morning of August 5, face up on a grassy patch close to the pavement along Triq President Anton Buttigieg.

As details began to emerge during the compilation of evidence, the court heard how footage from the accident scene showed a first car that flashed past, followed by a second car which appeared to be closer to the pavement.

That was the one that hit the victim who was flung into the air, turning over and landing on the ground, a police officer testified.

However, when cross-examined by Frendo’s lawyer, the witness said that police were still working to determine who was driving the car involved in the collision and to identify and track down the driver of the other vehicle.

At the end of that sitting, the Magistrates’ Court turned down the accused’s request for bail in view of the serious nature of the charges, the fact that investigations were still ongoing and also since a third party was involved. 

Another application for bail was subsequently filed before the Criminal Court.

In its decree, the court on Wednesday observed that Frendo had an untainted criminal record, was accused of an involuntary offence and had been in preventive custody for over one month. 

The prosecution objected to the defence’s request, arguing that investigations were still ongoing. 

But the court said that that did not mean that the accused was to suffer on account of delay by the police. 

The prosecution also feared that the accused was not trustworthy since he had tried to hide evidence by approaching a panel beater, hours after the fatal impact, to fix his damaged Mazda Demio. 

However, the court observed that the panel beater - the prosecution’s main witness-  had already testified. 

As a basic principle established in caselaw, personal freedom is a fundamental right and it was exceptional for a person facing criminal proceedings to be denied that freedom.

When considering an accused’s bail request, the court must be satisfied that there is not only reasonable suspicion that the applicant committed the alleged crime, but also that there were relevant and sufficient reasons in the public interest to justify further interference with the accused’s freedom.

'Telematics monitoring'

In light of this, Madam Justice Scerri Herrera repeated her call to the legislator to introduce electronic tagging as an effective measure allowing the ‘telematics monitoring’ of the accused.

Courts ought to be granted the faculty of applying this measure even in serious cases like the one at hand. 

Such ‘remote control’ serves a dual purpose by ensuring that society is better protected whilst allowing courts to impose less onerous conditions for bail. 

In this case, Frendo was to deposit all travel documents, not approach any prosecution witnesses in any way, attend every court hearing, sign the bail book daily and not leave home between 8.30pm and 6.30am.

He is to deposit €3,000 and bind himself under a personal guarantee of €7,000.

The court also appointed a probation officer to monitor the youth. 

Finally, “for the purpose or rather, in the hope” that the relative legislation is “scrutinized” to reflect present-day needs, Madam Justice Scerri Herrera ordered the decree to be sent to the Justice Minister and the Minister for Home Affairs.

Inspectors Roderick Spiteri and Shawn Pawney are prosecuting.Lawyers Franco Debono and Francesca Zarb are defence counsel.Lawyers Jason Azzopardi and Kris Busietta are assisting the victim’s family. 

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