Updated 6.21pm with court decision to refuse bail.

Two teenagers have been charged with assault in connection with a violent attack in Valletta that left a child with a broken leg.

The 16-year-old boys, who cannot be named by court order, sat quietly in court as charges were read out against them on Wednesday afternoon.

One of the teenagers is from Floriana and works at a supermarket. The other is from Valletta and declared that he is unemployed.

They jointly stand accused of assault, causing a person grievous injuries, insults and threats. Both have also been charged separately with causing a person slight injuries.  

Given that they are 16, they will be charged as minors, meaning they will face reduced punishment if found guilty. Prosecutors however say that aggravating factors in the crime would augment the accused's sentences, should they be convicted.  

Both pleaded not guilty but their request for bail was turned down.

Police announced that they had arrested the two on Tuesday evening.

Speaking in court, Inspector Daryl Borg told the court that one of the accused was found at home, while the other was accompanied to the police station by his stepfather.

The two had not been cooperative, fellow prosecutor Kevin Pulis told the court, and one swore at officers when police knocked on his door. 

"No bloody way am I coming to the police station. You're not arresting me [Niġi l-għassa l-ostja, mhux se tarrestawni]," the teen initially told arresting officers. 

Pulis went on to argue that the assault victims were terrorised and the 15-year-old boy with a broken leg would be missing six weeks of school during exam time. 

Defence lawyer Franco Debono, who is representing one of the accused, questioned the validity of his client’s arrest. But those concerns were dismissed by the magistrate.

Debono nevertheless asked the court to minute the fact that when his client was taken into custody, the arresting officer did not inform him why they were being arrested. That, Debono argued, went against Article 355 of the Criminal Code.

Inspector Pulis responded by telling the court that police had handed the accused a search and arrest warrant that made reference to a “report of grievous injuries”.

An 'unprovoked assault'

Charges against the two teenagers stem from an incident on Merchants Street on Saturday evening, in which a group of Scouts members was attacked. Prosecutors say the assault was unprovoked.

“My son was thrown to the floor and kicked repeatedly in the head and ribs as were the others but luckily, three of them got off relatively unhurt,” the father of one of the victims told Times of Malta.

Another of the victims, a 15-year-old boy, required surgery after suffering a broken leg in the assault.

The attack prompted Prime Minister Robert Abela to call for stricter sentences when people are convicted of such crimes, saying he no longer felt safe to let his daughter roam Valletta.

Other reports of similar attacks in the capital city have since emerged. 

A rowdy courtroom

Wednesday’s arraignment got off to a complicated start, after proceedings were held up because there was no court official available to receive a copy of criminal charges against the two accused.

Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech expressed irritation at the state of affairs, saying proceedings should not be held up due to a lack of court resources.

The magistrate also noted that too many people had crowded into the courtroom, prompting defence lawyer Debono to point out that his colleague Stefano Filletti, who is representing the victims in this case, had brought the victim’s families into the courtroom for no reason.

Filletti hit back, telling the court “these people’s kids were attacked, and they felt they should be here.”

The magistrate subsequently ordered that only one parent per party was to be allowed in the courtroom.

Magistrate wants law concerning criminal minors amended

When making submissions for bail, the defence noted other, similar cases in which minors had been granted bail and argued that there was no justification for locking up 16-year-olds in preventative custody. 

Rather than jail time, the focus should be on restorative justice, he said noting that the accused had no criminal records. 

Prosecutors objected, noting the gravity of the offence and saying the two could tamper with evidence or intimidate civilian witnesses if allowed out. 

The magistrate said a bail decree would be delivered in chambers. She issued a protection order in favour of the victims, at the request of their lawyer Filletti. 

As the day's court hearing wound to a close, the magistrate noted that existing criminal laws concerning minors require updating. 

While 16-year-olds are allowed to get married, run for office and even vote in national elections, they are nevertheless considered as minors when it comes to criminality, she said. 

Lawyers Franco Debono and Francesca Zarb represented one of the accused, with the other represented by lawyers Arthur Azzopardi and Jacob Magri.

Stefano Filletti represented two of the victims as a parte civile lawyer. Giannella de Marco and Charles Mercieca appeared as lawyers for another victim.

Inspectors Daryl Borg and Kevin Pulis prosecuted.

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