Two men were brutally gunned down by a violent criminal out on bail, but Malta’s Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis would rather stay quiet and dodge questions than deal with the pressing issue.
Daniel Muka, the alleged killer, was out on bail for the attempted murder of three police officers and €330,000 jewellery heist. He was roaming free three years later with the compilation of evidence dragging on. Two men, Chris Pandolfino and Ivor Maciejowski, paid the ultimate price.
On 18th August, Pandolfino was shot five times in the doorway of his home. Maciejowski murdered with a bullet to the head. And all for what police believe to be a botched hold-up. A judicial system does not always mean justice is served.
Lovin Malta first sent questions to Zammit Lewis on 26th August asking how he planned to address the urgent issue of delays in Malta’s courts.
The Justice Ministry went silent amid revelations of a treasure trove of WhatsApp messages between Zammit Lewis and Yorgen Fenech, the main suspect in the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
On 30th August, a ministerial spokesperson said that Lovin Malta would not be receiving any replies to the questions sent. However, the Minister said he would grant Lovin Malta an interview to discuss the issue further.
Broken promises and continued delays followed. Zammit Lewis simply refuses to be challenged further on the growing issue, even if it costs lives.
He is even remaining silent when it comes to Mason Nehls, the youth who has been waiting 11 years for his case to be heard in court. The Attorney General has told Lovin Malta it is trying to address the issue. The same cannot be said for Zammit Lewis.
Delays in Malta’s courts is a major issue plaguing the country. 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.
Reforms are being introduced, but only because the government has been forced to do so by the Venice Commission or EU law.
If only Zammit Lewis could show the same care to a potentially fatal issue as he did when tearfully embracing former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat at the disgraced politician’s farewell.
Muscat had just been forced to resign following major links between his office and the assassination of Caruana Galizia. The Justice Minister blubbering over his departure could raise serious questions about Malta’s commitment to good governance.
Malta’s new AG is being seriously questioned, the country needs decisive action not hesitance or fear from its political leaders.
The problems with Malta’s court delays are clear and they must be tackled urgently.
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 fewer 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.
Malta’s court could have blood on its hands and the Justice Minister cannot expect this issue to disappear by simply staying quiet. It is literally a matter of life or death.
Why do you think the Minister is staying quiet?