Updated 4.55pm with statement by the journalists' institute below
Three men accused of illegally detaining journalists after a late-night cabinet meeting at Castille last November, have been cleared for lack of sufficient evidence to prove that there been illegal arrest.
Jody Pisani, Mark Gauci and Emanuel McKay were facing criminal prosecution for holding Monique Agius, Miguela Xuereb, Julian Bonnici and Paul Caruana Galizia against their will inside the Auberge de Castille on November 29, at around 3am.
That night, journalists had been covering an extraordinary press conference called after a lengthy cabinet meeting during which Yorgen Fenech’s request for a presidential pardon had been discussed and subsequently, rejected.
The three journalists, together with Daphne Caruana Galizia’s son, Paul, were stopped from leaving Castille as security waited for former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to leave the building before allowing members of the media to leave.
When delivering judgment on Thursday, the court, presided over by magistrate Joseph Mifsud, declared from the outset that there was a limit to the court’s flexibility with the charges.
The court of criminal jurisdiction could not substitute the civil court and provide for civil remedies not envisaged in terms of law.
The court also declared it was not pleased with the way the case had been handled and investigated, noting that although the incident occurred on 29 November 2019, the police report was filed on December 2, 2019 and the charges were issued on July 14, 2020.
The prosecution had eight months to investigate, gather evidence and present a complete case in court.
“No one should expect the court to redress the shortcomings of others,” Magistrate Mifsud remarked, noting further that the prosecution had based its case on the solitary charge of unlawful arrest, thus binding the court’s hands in deciding upon that charge and nothing else.
The 6-minute footage filmed by Newsbook reporter, Monique Agius, the relevant part of which lasted just over two minutes, showed Paul Caruana Galizia approaching the door, pushing one of the men standing there, while a female voice in the background exclaimed “sekwestru” and insisted on knowing who those men, blocking them inside, were.
The court observed that the prosecution had never identified who had actually locked the door, which was ultimately unlocked from the other side of the room.
The prosecution had also been “most selective” when pressing charges only against three out of nine of the persons seen in the footage, and neither had it sought the version of other journalists attending that night’s press conference.
The tension and commotion on the other side of the door appeared to be far greater and once the door was unlocked, the situation degenerated into a “free for all.”
Whilst expressing “deep sympathy” with Paul Caruana Galizia who ended up in the midst of the incident while seeking to find out the latest developments about his mother’s “macabre assassination,” Magistrate Mifsud noted that tension and weariness among journalists that night had also taken its toll.
However, the court observed a clear lack of communication between the media and the event organizers and called for clear protocols to regulate government events and better collaboration between key players, including IGM and DOI.
Moreover, journalists ought to receive basic training to handle the various situations they might have to face.
Turning to the evidence at hand, the court said that there was no proof as to who gave the order to lock the door nor that force was used against the alleged victims at any time.
Moreover, there were other exits in the room, the people allegedly detained had not gone their against their will and the elements for the offence of illegal arrest had not been proved, concluded the court, thus pronouncing an acquittal.
Lawyer Matthew Xuereb, Charlon Gouder and Ramona Attard assisted the accused.
The truth was never genuinely sought - journalists' institute
The Institute of Journalists in a reaction to the court's decision noted that the police had not presented enough evidence to prove that journalists had been held against their will.
The court, 'almost apologetically,' cleared the accused after it emphatically expressed its displeasure at the way the case was investigated by the police, the institute said.
The court condemned the following facts:
- That the police reports made in real time by the journalists were not presented to court and further reports were not investigated.
- The witness statement by the police - The court said that the footage of the scene contradicted the testimony.
- The police made no attempt to see who closed the door and if the door was locked.
- The police made no attempt to seek the version of the organisers of the press conference.
These points were a clear indication that the truth was not genuinely sought, the institute said.
"Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence of unlawful arrest and, the evidence was absent because, as the court said, the police failed to do their duty. This is a serious failure and another chink in the armour of the rule of law which law abiding journalists come to expect," it said.
It urged the Office of the Prime Minister to note the stringent series of recommendations which could have been undertaken to avoid this shameful episode.
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