The serenity of the institutions

A 20-year-old was assaulted, stabbed 17 times and her lifeless body was left to rot in a field. It took 18 long years for two men to be charged with the crime and brought to trial. For the family, the long and painful wait for justice seemed to be close to an end.

But almost at the end of that trial, in his closing remarks, prosecuting officer Anthony Vella instructed jurors to acquit the accused of two of the charges he and his colleagues from the Attorney General’s Office charged them with. This was unheard of. It’s the role of the defence lawyers to convince jurors to acquit the accused, not the prosecutors’.  The prosecutor’s duty was to secure a conviction and to finally deliver justice to the tortured family. What was the AG’s office playing at? Hadn’t the family suffered enough?

At the end of the trial, the prosecution realised it had messed up, badly.  It got the charges wrong.  It belatedly discovered it had accused the men of crimes that didn’t even exist in the Criminal Code at the time of the murder.

In a shamefully embarrassing closing address, the prosecution ordered jurors to acquit the two men of two charges – using a knife in a crime against the person and carrying a knife in public without a permit.

Defence lawyers pounced on the prosecution’s shocking error. Prosecuting officer Vella flailed around as he tried to pick up the pieces.  “Investigations were meticulous in confirming all the facts of the case,” he pleaded.

Meticulous is not the word that best describes his prosecution – more like messy, sloppy, negligent.

He tried to patch up by saying, “No investigation is perfect”.  Perfect? He hadn’t even managed to get the charges right.

“All the pieces of the jigsaw will never be found,” he fumbled. “It isn’t the police or their work that’s on trial,” he beseeched.  No, they’re not but his office should be on trial for its casual negligence.  And for inflicting more unbearable misery on Sion Grech’s family.

The prosecution’s duty is to prove guilt attributed to the accused beyond every reasonable doubt. The jury must be virtually certain of the defendants’ guilt to render a guilty verdict. But in one of the most bizarre appeals by a prosecuting officer Vella concluded: “Certainty only belongs to the divine”.

Vella appeared determined to sow doubt into the jurors’ minds and to destroy his case. What was he trying to do, confirm to the jurors that not even he was convinced of the defendants’ guilt?

The AG’s office and the prosecution had 18 years to get this right. They botched it.  So badly that the whole case collapsed.  Despite convincing evidence that the two defendants committed the murder, the jurors acquitted the men of all charges, including willful homicide. And who could blame them?

The whole case was a mess. The prosecution shot itself in both feet. How can a prosecution that gets even the most basic things wrong be trusted with any of the evidence it presents? Not surprisingly, the jurors’ decision was almost unanimous.

Eight out of nine jurors acquitted Faical Mahouachi, and seven out of nine jurors acquitted Ishmael Habesh.

The whole case leaves the country stunned. Not only with the brutality with which a 20-year-old met her end, but with the staggering incompetence of the AG’s prosecution. How could this case have been dragged out for 18 years? And why, after all those years, was the case so disastrously prosecuted?

If Habesh and Mahouachi did in fact kill Sion  and were acquitted because of the prosecution’s amateurism and sloppiness, Sion and her family will continue to suffer that denial of justice.

If Habesh and Mahouachi weren’t her murderers, then the culprit or culprits are still on the loose.  If that’s the case Sion and her family have been denied justice all the same.

And so have all of us. When the perpetrator or perpetrators of a brutal murder can get away so easily, we’ve all been let down.

Botched prosecutions, failure to prosecute, errors in the charge sheets, failure to produce witnesses, missing documents have become a recurring theme. The AG keeps bungling cases and crooks keep getting away. The cases of Darren Debono it-Topo,  Yorgen Fenech’s lawyers, John Spiteri, Adrian Agius, ElectroGas and Pilatus Bank are just the tip of the AG’s melting iceberg.

But will anything change? Will the Sion Grech case be reviewed? Will the prosecuting officers be disciplined? Will they be retrained? Will the Sion case trigger a public inquiry?  Will it at least lead to an internal review of current cases? Almost certainly not.  For the simple reason that this is not the first botched case.  The AG’s office keeps getting chastised and reprimanded by the courts for its gross and elementary errors that undermine the judicial process and deprive honest citizens of justice.

Yet nothing’s happened. The same AG, Victoria Buttigieg, whose unfitness for the role raised concerns from the very start, has failed to react to her office’s repeated fiascos.

The minister responsible, Jonathan Attard, is hardly ever heard of.  Is he still the justice minister? When you believe as firmly as he does that the institutions are working, you’re hardly the man to catalyse the desperately needed reforms.

Every messed-up prosecution case is met either with silence from the minister or with a repetition of the mantra that the institutions are working.  In one of his epic comments after yet another AG flop, Attard stated, “Let us appreciate that the AG’s office ensured justice in the case of Caruana Galizia’s assassination”.

The AG’s office is making a mockery of justice.  The AG is laughing in the face of years of anguish suffered by Sion’s family. And Minister Jonathan Attard simply watches on, transfixed by his own inertia: “I will allow institutions to work in serenity and no unjust pressure should be exerted to distract from that serenity”.

Serenity is probably not the dominant sentiment of Sion’s family.

                           
                           
                               
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Joseph
Joseph
4 days ago

How low can we go, maybe we reached the bottom long ago. The mind boggles!

simon oosterman
simon oosterman
4 days ago

Intentional incompetence?

wenzu
wenzu
4 days ago

the staggering incompetence of the AG’s prosecution appears to be the norm.

Greed
Greed
3 days ago
Reply to  wenzu

And blessed from 5he castile

saviour mamo
saviour mamo
3 days ago

Froġa wara froġa. U Robert Abela wegħdna li se nkunu l-aqwa fid-dinja.

N Scerri
N Scerri
2 days ago
Reply to  saviour mamo

Futur sabih

Joseph Tabone Adami
Joseph Tabone Adami
3 days ago

“But, will anything change?” HARDLY!

“Will the Sion Grech case be reviewed?” HARDLY!

“Will the prosecuting officers be disciplined?” HARDLY!

“Will they be re-trained?” HARDLY!

“Will the Sion Grech case trigger a public inquiiry?” HARDLY!

An equally important question, in my opinion:-
Will the prosecuting officers be fired? Again: HARDLY!

“Hardly” may stand for “CERTAINLY NOT” – but one should never take “NO” for an answer, should one!

Last edited 3 days ago by Joseph Tabone Adami
Mick
Mick
3 days ago

A Mafia orientated and controlled prosecutors office which is staffed by incompetents even by Gahan standards, who would be unlikely to find employment elsewhere and are totally committed to Omerta.

Out of Curiosity
Out of Curiosity
22 hours ago

The AG’s office is a mix of incompetence, bad governance and malignity, for all means and purposes, an office which is serving well the rotten rather than the good. And the three special qualities of this office are all intertwined, emanating from deep ignorance, low self esteem, and hunger to conquer what is probabbly unconquerable in a world where a well balanced democracy exists.

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