Three cleared of “illegally detaining journalists at Castille last year”

Court slams police handling of the case

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

The three men who kept journalists from leaving Castille following a tense press conference in the midst of anti-government protests last year have been spared legal consequences for their actions after Magistrate Joe Mifsud ruled that insufficient evidence had been presented to prove a case of illegal detention.

The incident happened last 29 November at around 3am and the three men – Jody Pisani, Mark Gauci and Emanuel McKay – faced a single charge: that of illegally detaining four journalists. The journalists in question were Monique Agius and Miguela Xuereb from Newsbook.com.mt, Paul Caruana Galizia and Julian Bonnici.

The men had refused to identify themselves as they stopped the journalists for leaving, in an incident that was filmed by Agius on her mobile phone.

Magistrate Mifsud, a former Labour Party journalist, made clear his dissatisfaction at the way the police investigation the case, suggesting that their handling may have undermined the prosecution of the three men.

“The case took place on 29 November 2019, the police report was filed on 2 December and the charges were issued on 14 July. The police had more than 8 months to investigate, gather evidence and present a complete case before the Court. No one should expect the Court to make up for others’ shortcomings. The Court has to decide on what is presented to it, and not on what is said outside or reported in a newspaper, a web portal or on social media,” he maintained.

While Agius and Xuereb had filed the police report, the magistrate observed that this was not exhibited in Court.

While the police arraigned three men, Magistrate Mifsud observed that the footage indicated a larger number of people, in contrast to what prosecuting inspector Daryl Borg had maintained. Caruana Galizia had himself identified four other persons in a report made to the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life.

“It emerged that whoever investigate the case did not seek the version of events of those who organised the press conference, and there was no attempt to determine who kept the door closed (whether it was locked or not),” he said. “This fact was crucial if the prosecution wanted to succeed in its case.”

While the charges mentioned four journalists, a far larger number were present, and their version of events was also not sought. It thus appeared that the prosecution’s case relied entirely on Agius’ footage.

Mifsud questioned the absence of name tags, and whatever role the three defendants were supposed to cover during the press conference – and on whose behalf – is yet to be confirmed. But he also insisted that Maltese journalists were not receiving sufficient training on handling tense and dangerous situations, suggesting that the Institute of Maltese Journalists should play a role in this.

Ultimately, however, the magistrate emphasised that his hands were tied by the charge – and the evidence – presented by the prosecution, adding that it was its duty to prove its case. Additionally, he added, it was enough for the defence to provide reasonable doubt.

With the incident taking place in the midst of a tense and chaotic environment, with a protest still ongoing outside of Castille, Mifsud said that “the Court does not feel morally convinced that the prosecution has achieved the level of proof required, and thus it must declare the accused not guilty.”