Statements released by a man set to face trial by jury over the 1988 murder of Baron Francis Sant Cassia cannot be used as evidence against him, a criminal court has declared.
Carmel Camilleri, 66, a father of five was arraigned in 2006 and accused of shooting Sant Cassia just outside his Mgarr residence on October 27, 1988.
That murder had gone unresolved for a number of years until police, working on a separate case in 2004, had zeroed in on Camilleri as the suspect hitman.
Investigators claimed that Camilleri had been commissioned to carry out the murder.
He allegedly approached the baron’s residence, Castello Zammittello, crouching behind a rubble wall and waited for the victim to emerge.
The minute Sant Cassia stepped outside his home, he was shot in the head and killed on the spot.
Eight years later, Camilleri on arraignment pleaded not guilty to wilful homicide, illegal possession of a firearm and firing the weapon in an inhabited area.
Prior to his arraignment, Camilleri had given two statements to the police.
At the time, Maltese law did not grant suspects the right to legal assistance before and during police interrogation and Camilleri had released his statements without consulting a lawyer.
That right was introduced into Maltese statutory law in 2016.
Camilleri’s lawyers raised a preliminary plea to the bill of indictment, claiming that allowing those statements to be produced in evidence at the trial would breach the accused's fundamental right to a fair hearing.
In a 68-page long judgment citing local and ECHR case law on the subject, Madam Justice Consuelo Scerri Herrera observed that although judgments were sometimes conflicting, the position adopted by Malta's constitutional courts followed that set out by the ECHR in Beuze vs Belgium and in Farrugia vs Malta.
Lack of legal assistance during interrogation did not automatically amount to a breach of rights, but the court must assess the “overall fairness” of the proceedings to determine the breach.
This right pertained to all, irrespective of whether a person knew that he was a suspect or not, said the court.
More so in this case, when a psychiatrist had certified Camilleri as having low IQ.
Examining the then 51-year old man after his arraignment, the psychiatrist had reported that although the accused was “fit to plead” and “of sound mind,” he lacked literacy and numeracy skills, was a victim of abuse and had often submitted to intimidation by his peers.
A constitutional court had declared in 2013 that allowing those police statements did not breach Camilleri’s rights because he had sufficient time to seek legal advice before going to the police to give his version.
But Madam Justice Scerri Herrera pointed out that those statements could impact the criminal process where the accused was due to face a jury made up of common people who were not legal-minded individuals.
The accused’s low IQ and his clean criminal record meant that he was not familiar with police investigations when he had gone to give his statements, observed the Judge.
Thus it was in the interests of justice and the integrity of the judicial process for those statements to be withdrawn, the court declared.
Lawyers Jason Azzopardi, Kris Busietta and Julian Farrugia are defence counsel.