President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca (left) attended the police march after Liam Debono’s hit-and-run
The lawyers of Liam Debono, the 17-year-old accused of the attempted murder of police officer Simon Schembri in a hit-and-run, have filed a judicial protest against the Attorney General to complain about the President’s participation in a police march right after the incident.
Lawyers Franco Debono and Amadeus Cachia are arguing that President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca’s presence in the front row of the rally last May could prejudice the jurors who will eventually have to decide the accused’s fate.
“The police organised a march in Valletta three days after Liam Debono was charged, obviously in the context of the accusations against him, in which the President stood side by side with the Police Commissioner,” the lawyers wrote. “As a general rule, the President doesn’t participate in controversial matters and nothing can be more controversial than an ongoing court case. Due to her moral authority, her participation in the protest could very well have created an irremediable prejudice against the accused as it could have conditioned public opinion, and this in the context that jurors will be composed of members of the public.”
“The right to a fair hearing from an independent and impartial court and the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty are two of the most fundamental principles of our judicial system and of all systems that respect the rule of law. These rights apply to everyone and to all crimes.”
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat (pictured) and Opposition leader Adrian Delia also attended the protest
The lawyers argued that new facts have come to light since the protest, such as the testimony of an eyewitness who said that Schembri had stepped out in front of Debono’s car after the teenager started driving away from him and made no attempt to get out of the vehicle’s way.
“Such behaviour goes against the police’s best practice rules, which state that officers should not step in front of moving vehicles,” they said. “Up until this day, it is unknown how much the policeman’s behaviour could have contributed to this incident. This is just one of several controversial points that can only be ruled upon after justice takes its full course, with full respect towards all parties, including the accused, and with full respect to his right to a fair hearing from an independent and impartial court without any interference, conditioning or external influence.”
The lawyers also referred to yesterday’s testimony of police inspector Malcolm Bondin, who said that Liam Debono had told him his mother had started administering cannabis to him to help him fall asleep when he was only nine years old. They note that his upbringing coincided with Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca’s brief tenure as Social Policy Minister between 2013 and 2014.
Simon Schembri (left) had his arm amputated after the incident
“This case could therefore be an indication of the failure of our educational and social systems to step in after Debono’s nuclear family failed to give him the necessary support. The President never commented on the social aspect of this case.”
Amadeus Cachia had flagged these concerns about the President’s participation in the protest in court yesterday, but his complaint was shot down by magistrate Joe Mifsud – who is presiding over the case against Liam Debono.
“I would have marched shoulder to shoulder with the President had I not been prohibited by ethics,” Mifsud said.