Malta’s police work tirelessly to solve gruesome murders and shocking crimes with the arrest of Daniel Muka over a Sliema double murder evidence of that. However, Malta’s court delays, which are some of the longest in Europe, mean their work is counting for nought.
Malta is rightfully proud over the police making the arrest roughly a week after the double murder. Yet, Muka was out on bail for a violent robbery and attempted murder of three police officers in 2017.
Questions must now be asked whether the courts could have prevented Chris Pandolfino and Ivor Maciejowski’s murder.
Despite being charged with stealing almost €300,000 worth of jewellery from Diamonds International and trying to murder three police officers, Muka was walking free (subject to some conditions) with the case dragging on almost three years later.
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.
Delays should not be a major surprise, with lawyers regularly deferring cases and creating significant backlogs in Malta’s courts. Meanwhile, human resources remain worryingly low with Malta having some of the lowest number of judges per 100,000 inhabitants, despite having one of the largest number of lawyers per 100,000 inhabitants.
However, with a violent offender claiming the lives of two men, questions must be asked how exactly the system is going to change with judicial reforms currently underway.
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