Editors concerned by magistrate's Xarabank ruling in Liam Debono case

The following is a joint statement issued by MaltaToday, The Malta Independent, Times of Malta and Lovin Malta

We are concerned about the way an interview with a young man accused of attempted murder has been prevented from being broadcast on national television, by the wide discretionary powers granted to the law courts to prohibit reports on “sub judice” proceedings.

Sub judice technically means “under judicial consideration and therefore prohibited from public discussion”.

Article 517 of the Criminal Code grants the court of criminal justice the power to prohibit any publication of proceedings before their termination, for contempt of court.

This discretionary power was employed by Magistrate Joe Mifsud on request of the lawyers of PC Simon Schembri in their bid to stop an interview with accused Liam Debono, on Xarabank. The Attorney General actively proclaimed that the use of Article 517 should be a remedy for journalistic endeavours that fall foul of ethical standards.

We understand that the interview with Liam Debono deserves the highest form of journalistic treatment.

However, we feel this extreme measure endangers the freedom of the press and broadcasters to discuss matters of national importance.

The magistrate’s decree risks opening the floodgates for similar decisions, that imply some form of contempt of court by reporting on a case that is sub judice, or by giving exclusive attention to any one party of a criminal case. We feel this is unprecedented in the recent history of journalism.

The decree punishes journalistic endeavour that can create offence – something safeguarded by the European Court of Human Rights (Handyside).

As editors, we are committed to prevent the misuse of contempt of court as a callous tool for the suppression of information.