An inquiry will look into whether any state entities failed a woman who was murdered as a result of alleged domestic violence, Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri said.

Bernice Cassar, a mother of two, was shot dead at Corradino industrial estate in Paola early on Tuesday morning. Police have since launched an operation to capture the prime suspect.

Speaking on Tuesday afternoon, the minister said the police had investigated reports of alleged domestic violence filed by the victim and pressed charges against the lead suspect in the murder. 

However, although a report had first been made in May, the criminal case is not set to be heard in court until November next year, he said. 

Camilleri said he had discussed the matter with Justice Minister Jonathan Attard and both had agreed to appoint retired judge Geoffrey Valencia to look into the case and establish whether there had been any shortcomings. 

“If there were failures we want to know who was responsible and what needs to be done to fix this,” he said.

Murder victim Bernice Cassar.Murder victim Bernice Cassar.

'A femicide'

The minister described the case as a femicide. 

The term was introduced into local criminal law earlier this year, as a result of legal amendments sparked by the murder of Paulina Dembska in Sliema. 

Under the new law, judges are encouraged to dole out harsher sentences for murders committed with "femicidal intent". Defendants in such cases can no longer argue that they committed the crime out of "passion".  

Camilleri expressed his sadness for Tuesday's murder. 

“Nothing we can say today can comfort the family and so many who are hurt by this incident. As an entire society we are hurt and angry at what happened,” he said. 

Cassar had accused suspect of domestic violence

The minister said that in August the victim had taken the main suspect (who the minister did not reveal)  to court. The court had issued a protection order in favour of Cassar, he added.  

This after the victim in May filed a report and police had pressed charges against the alleged aggressor.

The minister said it was clear that the charges were not enough to stop what had happened. 

He said there had been instances where the victim had received “assistance”, but he did not elaborate. 

Domestic violence is a scourge that plagues society, he said. 

The incident happened shortly after 8am on a road behind the MCAST campus, where the 40-year-old woman from Qrendi was driving her car. 

Police sources said the murder is believed to stem from a domestic dispute, and the woman had filed domestic violence reports in the past. 

The lead suspect is currently holed up in his home and police are negotiating with him. He is believed to be armed.

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