Alfred Degiorgio claims he and his brother George have undergone trial by the media ever since their arrest almost five years ago, long before facing trial by jury over their role as alleged hitmen in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Degiorgio made these claims in an application filed on Monday, seeking recourse before the constitutional courts to suspend trials "in the near future" in his regard until these latest grievances were decided upon.
He recalled how former prime minister Joseph Muscat had delivered a press conference following the arrest of the two brothers and their alleged associate - later self-confessed hitman Vincent Muscat, during a police raid on the so-called Marsa potato sheds.
Although pronouncing himself as very cautious, there was no doubt that the message behind that national address was that the suspects behind what Muscat described as “a barbaric act” had been caught, he said.
Since then, both brothers were “bombarded” by both local and foreign media coverage, with their “mugshots,” taken in relation to previous criminal investigations, published far and wide.
The former prime minister had referred to those arrested as “reasonably suspected” of involvement in the journalist’s murder, adding that they were “known to police” and had separate “pending cases.”
During the “non-stop bombardment” by the media, the suspected killers were described as “killers,” “criminals”, “notorious”, “gangsters”, “murderous gang,” “brothers in crime,” “hardened criminals,” “assassins” and “hitmen,” said their lawyer in Monday's application filed before the First Hall, Civil Court.
And when they recently requested a presidential pardon, the Prime Minister publicly described them as “forming part of organised crime” and “criminals”.
Moreover, every request for bail over the past four years and eight months was rejected, with the courts citing one of the reasons as being the notion of public disorder.
Such widespread media coverage also triggered “unlimited” comments by the public in general who deemed them guilty based on published reports.
It was useless arguing that the judge who would eventually preside over the trial would distance herself from such prejudice, argued the applicant, adding that such prejudice existed among the public in general “perhaps even before his arraignment.”
The European Court of Human Rights teaches that “a virulent press campaign can adversely affect the fairness of a trial by influencing public opinion and consequently, jurors called upon to decide the guilt of an accused," he added.
In this case, Degiorgio could not opt to be judged by a judge without a jury.
Given the circumstances, his presumption of innocence and his right to a fair trial was prejudiced, argued Degiorgio’s lawyer, thus turning to the constitutional court for an effective remedy.
He also requested an interim measure whereby any future trial was postponed until this breach of rights claim was settled.
Lawyer William Cuschieri signed the application.
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