Three priests charged with sexually abusing children in their care at the St Joseph’s Home have asked the Constitutional Court to enforce a 2003 press ban on their case, claiming their trial was being prejudiced by media coverage.

In a second application filed yesterday, the priests also asked for the ban to apply to the constitutional case they had just filed.

The priests argued the media publicity on the case violated their human right to a fair hearing and people, both in the media and elsewhere, were not respecting the ban.

The Times could not obtain a copy of the constitutional application as everyone was tight-lipped about it and its contents.

One of the priests’ defence lawyers, Giannella Caruana Curran, confirmed the application had been filed but refused to divulge its contents, quoting the same ban they wanted the court to enforce.

However, sources confirmed the priests’ complaints, which were outlined in the application and for which they were asking for remedies.

The most important request is for the prejudice they have been suffering to stop through the enforcement of the ban issued by Magistrate Saviour Demicoli on October 28, 2003 following a requests by the priests’ lawyers.

That day, the court accepted three requests by the defence: a ban on the publication of names, photos or footage of the accused; a ban on the publication of evidence given by witnesses during the compilation of evidence in the Magistrates’ Court; and a request for the case to be heard behind closed doors.

The prosecution had not objected to the ban.

In their application, the priests asked the court to issue directives or remedies it deemed fit for the prejudice they claim they have been suffering over the years to stop so they could be afforded a fair hearing.

Sources said their complaints were based on what they believe was “a trial by a distorted media”, which ran counter to their fundamental human right to a fair hearing by an impartial court of law.

“The ban has to be respected by everyone and not just by one of the parties involved. There cannot be a situation whereby people, both in the media and outside, divulge certain details of the proceedings without giving the whole picture. Otherwise, it will continue being an unfair process and totally one-sided,” the sources said.

Another aspect of the constitutional case deals with the lengthy proceedings before the Magistrates’ Court, with the priests arguing the longer the case took to be decided, the deeper the prejudice against them became, the sources said.

The scandal of clerical abuse surfaced after eight victims claimed they were abused when still minors at St Joseph’s orphanage in Santa Venera in the 1990s.

The case hit the international headlines when the victims met Pope Benedict XVI during his visit in Malta in April last year after having met Archbishop Paul Cremona.

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