Three men accused of carrying out the car bombing that killed journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia could be automatically entitled to bail in just one month’s time.
Brothers Alfred and George Degiorgio, along with Vince Muscat, have spent the last 19 months in and out of court hearing the body of evidence accumulated against them by both local and foreign investigators.
The three men have pleaded not guilty to planting the car bomb that murdered the journalist and rattled the country.
Without an indictment, the presumption of innocence prevents any person from being held against their will for more than 20 months.
Magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit ruled there was sufficient evidence for a bill of indictment to be issued within three weeks of the men being charged in December 2017.
Europe’s top human rights watchdog has raised the alarm about the narrowing time window for the Attorney General to indict the three men prior to them being automatically entitled to bail.
A report by the Council of Europe into the murder investigation flagged how the compilation of evidence against the three men has been dragging on for a year and a half without any sign of an indictment that would see the suspects formally put on trial for the murder.
One source briefed on the process assured that the drafting of the indictment was well under way.
The source would not be drawn into specifying by when the process was expected to be completed.
A legal expert, who preferred to remain unnamed due to the high-profile nature of the case, distinguished between the suspects’ automatic right to bail if the indictment is not filed in time, and them actually being able to roam the streets.
“Sure, a court would automatically have to grant them bail, but it would still be able to stipulate the conditions [for that bail]. The court could easily impose financial conditions that are so restrictive that it would make it impossible for any of the three men to meet them and be able to walk the streets.
“Technically in such a scenario they still would have been granted bail, yet they would be held in custody,” the legal expert said. Even if the indictment is filed within the 20-month window, there would be nothing stopping the suspects from requesting bail again, though their various attempts have been rejected.
Ms Caruana Galizia’s son Matthew said the way the case was proceeding showed how broken Malta’s criminal justice system was. He pointed to three fundamental problems: the police leading the prosecution instead of an independent criminal prosecutor; under-resourced and inefficient courts; and the Attorney General’s “massive conflict of interest”.
On the question of bail, he said the prosecution had taken the 20 months as their deadline, following Parkinson’s law on bureaucracy: work expands to take up the time available.