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Paying ones' dues to society

On 13 November 2009  in Malta the Courts of Justice decided the appeals cases lodged by the Attorney General, from the sentences handed down to those who admitted their part in the local VAT scam. The Police v. Maurice Agius judgement makes particularly informative reading.

The Attorney General argued for harsher punishments – unsuccessfully because the appeal was dismissed; in the judgement His Excellency the Chief Justice, amongst other things, commented on the manner in which the general public had reacted to the judgement at first instance (the general public was disappointed that these individuals ‘got away’ with a criminal interdiction and a suspended sentence):  

‘Jinghad ukoll li, filwaqt li gudikant ... ghandu jiehu kont tal-impatt tar-reat fuq is-socjeta u tar-reazzjoni tas-socjeta ghal dak it-tip ta’ reat ... il-gudikant mhux qieghed hemm biex jissodisfa l-ghajta ta’ dawk li, ma’ kull sentenza, tarahom jiktbu fil-gazzetti jew f’xi blog  fuq l-internet biex jikkritikaw kollox u bl-addocc ghax minghalihom li saru esperti anke fil-ligi u fil-mod kif is-sentenzi ghandhom jigu decizi’.  (P. 8 para. 9)

Translation: ‘It must be said that, while the adjudicator... has to take account of the impart of the crime on society and of the reation of society to that kind of crime... the adjudicator is not there to satisfy the pleas of those who, with every court judgement handed down, write in the newspapers or post blogs on the internet to criticise all and sundry because they think they have become experts in the law and also in the manner in which court judgements are decided.’

Wise words indeed, but then one would expect no less from His Excellency the Chief Justice. Wise because he succently described the social effect of crime and the weighting that public opinion merits, while pointing a finger at those who possibly overdo it in the criticism department.

The judgement is also particularly interesting because His Excellency took the time to explain the mechanics of sentencing and the considerations given to the different factors that come into play, while covertly criticising the court of first instance for not having done so itself:

’12. Mela, kif jirrizulta minn dawn il-fatti – li din il-Qorti hadet l-izbriga li tiddelinea forsi b’aktar dettall milli ghamlet l-ewwel qorti...’

Translation: ’12. So, as has emerged from the facts – that this Court took the time to outline perhaps in more detail than the first court...’ 

His Excellency took the time to explain amongst other things the purpose, role and function of criminal interdiction (footnote 3 at p. 4 & 5 – an extract from Giuseppe Falzon’s Annotazioni alle Leggi Criminali per l’Isola di Malta e sue Dipendenze, 1870 ) and  suspended sentencing (p. 8, para. 8 – Police v. Anthony Wood 23 September 1994). 

The Court makes further references to the works of prominent authors and even to a Council of Europe Committee of Ministers’ recommendation (p. 14, para. 13).

The Court of Appeal also took time to point out that most of the perpetrators cooperated with the Police thus enabling them to identify and press charges against others who formed part of the scam in question; his Excellency the Chief Justice also pointed out that admitting of misdeeds leads to lighter punishment; it must not be forgotten either that these individuals paid money (in some cases significant amounts) for nothing (in the form of bribes), they got into a lot of worry and trouble and are still having to pay the tax money they owe the State.

Although the hue and cry which surrounded the VAT scandal has died down somewhat, the Court of Appeal’s efforts to explain to critics and sceptics the rationale behind the first court’s position should not go unnoticed.

The court judgement is available (in Maltese only) at http://www2.justice.gov.mt/sentenzi/default.asp?lng=eng .

See also my earlier blog 'An unaccountable nation'

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