A Maltese court handing out €7,000 to Alfred Degiorgio, one the men charged with murdering Daphne Caruana Galizia, over major delays to sittings in a hold-up case has led to serious questions over the state’s ability to protect its citizens.
“Today, suspected car-bomber Alfred Degiorgio was awarded €7,000 in damages paid for by the state because our Ministry of Justice took 13 years to appoint a fingerprint expert in a case against Degiorgio for a hold-up in the year 2000,” Matthew Caruana Galizia wrote on social media.
“To add insult to injury, the judge overturned Degiorgio’s August 2017 conviction for that hold-up – which in any case came with a suspended sentence that left Degiorgio free to put a bomb in my mother’s car.”
“We’re left wondering, what purpose does the Maltese state serve if it cannot even do the basic job of keeping us safe?” he continued.
Degiorgio filed the constitutional case in December 2018 after a court overturned a decision over a hold-up in 2000, where more than €2 million were stolen from a Group 4 van.
Degiorgio was eventually handed a two year suspended sentence in August 2017. He eventually argued that the delays breached his rights.
Two months later, Degiorgio, along with his brother George and Vince Muscat, allegedly murdered Caruana Galizia by car bomb.
Court delays are a massive issue in Malta. Daniel Muka, one of the men charged with murdering Chris Pandolfino and Ivor Maciejowski, was out on bail due to delays in his hearings.
While figures for the length of criminal cases is not immediately available, a 2020 EU study of Malta’s courts found that its delays are some of the longest in Europe.
It takes an average of 2,250 days to resolve a money laundering case, 1,100 days to resolve a civil suit if it goes to appeal, and 1,000 days for administrative matters. In each instance, Malta tops the list by some margin.
Some compilations of evidence in criminal cases take decades, with Lovin Malta recently shedding light on the case of Mason Nehls, the youth who has been waiting 11 years for his case to be heard in court.
A compilation of evidence must be concluded within one month, according to Maltese law, but the rule is seldom followed. Extensions are regular and Malta’s courts are obliged to release a person on bail if a bill of indictment is not issued, with the presumption of innocence reigning supreme.
Indeed, suspects can only be kept in prison for a maximum of 20 months before their trial begins if they are charged with an offence that carries a maximum prison sentence of nine years or more. The maximum time limit is reduced to 16 months if their alleged crime carries a maximum sentence of between four to nine years and to 12 months if it carries a sentence of less than four years.
The rule almost let the alleged killers in the Daphne Caruana Galizia walk free, with the Attorney General only issuing the bill of indictment at the eleventh hour.