A man has walked free from charges of grievous bodily harm after an administrative hiccup involving the Office of the President.
Redeemer Camilleri, 26, was charged in August with assault after he allegedly hit another man on the head with a bottle during a heated argument.
Magistrate Caroline Farrugia Frendo was assigned to the case with the first sitting of the compilation of evidence set for September 15. However, on that day, only Camilleri and his defence lawyers, Franco Debono and Francesca Zarb, appeared in court, with no sign of the prosecution.
The court put off the case to October 8, with the month-long window for the compilation of evidence extended until October 15 under a procedure which requires the president’s go-ahead.
At the next sitting, the prosecution again failed to turn up, this time because the officers were occupied in a trial. The court put off the case once more, this time to October 27. During that sitting, it transpired that a second request to extend the preliminary evidence stage had not come back from the Office of President George Vella.
An assistant registrar testified that, about two weeks earlier, the request had been sent from the courts to the justice ministry, to be signed by the president. However, for some reason unknown to the courts, the paperwork was never returned.
Court moved to discharge accused for administrative shortcoming
The court then moved to discharge the accused, not because there was not enough prima facie evidence against him but because of “an administrative shortcoming”.
The attorney general appealed the decision, with the case assigned to Madame Justice Consuelo Scerri Herrera.
The attorney general argued there was enough evidence for the criminal proceedings against the accused to start from scratch. The court had seen a medical certificate proving the injuries and the defence team had not contested the validity of the arrest.
The court had even issued a protection order banning the accused from speaking to his alleged victim.
However, in a lengthy decree handed down earlier this month, the judge said the evidence submitted so far was “truly weak”.
The judge said no witnesses had been brought and the prosecution had failed to testify even though the accused had first been charged more than three months earlier.
In the absence of any actual evidence, the case brought forward by the prosecution was based on “hearsay”, the judge decreed.
“This court honestly cannot understand how the attorney general, given these shortcomings, expects the first court not to have discharged Redeemer Camilleri,” the judge commented.
Office of the President: Document returned with signature on October 14
In a brief statement issued on Monday afternoon, the Office of the President said that the document in question was submitted to it on October 11 and signed by President George Vella the following day, October 12.
It was then returned to the sender on October 14, the president's office said.
According to a timeline of events laid out in the court decree, the president had never replied to a second request for an extension.
The decree says Camilleri was first arraigned and charged on August 15.
The first sitting was set for September 15, but the prosecution had failed to turn up.
The court deferred the case to October 8 and in the meantime, the compilation of evidence was extended until October 15 by President Vella.
On October 8, the prosecution again failed to turn up, this time as they were tied up in a trial by jury. The case was once again deferred, this time to October 27.
On October 27 the court was told that a second request to extend had been sent to the president on October 11 but a reply had never arrived.
The decree quotes the deputy registrar who testified that: “the request for an extension was sent from the office of the registrar on October 11, 2021, and sent from the Ministry to obviously go to the office of the president, however, we never heard anything from the president.”
“It was this shortcoming which led the magistrate’s court to stop the proceedings,” the decree reads.
On Monday the office of the president denied any shortcomings on its part.
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