First-time drug users to receive a warning
Court discretion over sexual consent
In a watershed moment for Maltese drug laws, the government is proposing that first-time offenders caught with drugs for their own personal use receive a formal warning rather than undergo court proceedings.
The proposal, which applies to all illegal drugs, is one of over 100 amendments to the Criminal Code presented to Parliament by Justice Minister Carm Mifsud Bonnici.
The Bill calls for the Attorney General to be given the power to issue formal warnings as well as refer individuals to a specialised rehabilitation committee. A drugs court, similar to the already existing family court, will also be set up.
The warning, which would be issued at the Attorney General’s discretion, would not appear on an individual’s police record and would be a one-off caution.
The Bill carries on Dr Mifsud Bonnici’s tradition of presenting a yearly set of amendments to the Criminal Code. The minister said the proposed amendments needed to be seen as part of the government’s broader system of reparative justice.
“Delinquency rates have gone down and part of that is due to more prison sentences being given. But that doesn’t mean we’re eager to simply increase sentences, lock people up and throw away the key,” he said.
Using drug abuse as an example, the minister said the government’s focus on reparative justice meant a change in focus from simply punishing an individual or ordering them to stop using drugs, to “helping and motivating individuals to be able to kick their habit.”
For the first time ever, environmental crimes will be enshrined in Maltese law, outlawing the manufacturing, transportation, dumping or release of environmentally deleterious substances.
The destruction or trading of protected species of flora and fauna will also be made illegal.
Proposal to assign more community work
One proposal is to grant the courts the authority to assign community work to individuals who receive suspended sentences. Community service is currently limited to those on probation, with 13,000 hours being assigned over the past year.
The minimum age of criminal responsibility is to be raised from nine years to 14 and malicious intent must be demonstrated to prosecute minors between the ages of 14 and 16.
In an attempt to further harmonise justice systems across the EU, crimes committed within other member states will be taken into account when an individual is being tried.
This, the minister explained, will prevent individuals from being classified as first-time offenders when they have a criminal history of having committed similar crimes in other EU countries. Similarly, individuals under probation will continue their probation when they move to another EU country.
Homophobic intent will be granted the same importance as racism, with any criminal acts motivated by homophobia receiving an increased sentence.
Legislation concerning the age of sexual consent is to be tweaked for cases where the victim is between 16 and 18. In such cases, the courts will be given the discretion to halt proceedings if the age and maturity gap between the two is minimal and sex was consensual.
Agreed sentencing, whereby the defence and prosecution can agree on a proposed sentence to suggest to the court, is to be entrenched into court structures and made available at any stage of proceedings.
The Chief Justice will also be given greater flexibility in the running of the courts. He will have the power to delegate specialised work to different court sections as well as assigning magistrates solely to magisterial inquiry work, if they so wish.
Regulations concerning fireworks licences are to be toughened up, with the Police Commissioner empowered to revoke a person’s licence if he commits any number of crimes or has a history of mental health disorders.
The proposals call for harsher sentences for attacks on public officials, acts of fraud, human trafficking, prostitution, grave site defacements, vandalism of public monuments, anti-democratic crimes, corruption and racketeering.
Those who have committed violent thefts such as hold-ups will no longer be liable for suspended sentences or probation and nor will individuals found guilty of prostitution-related offences.
The Immigration Act is to be amended, bringing it in line with EU directives. The amendments concern procedures for the removal of migrants whose asylum application has been rejected.
To better combat money laundering, a criminal assets bureau based on the hugely successful Irish model will be established next year.
Legislation will also be amended to transform the Malta Police Association into a union, albeit one with no power of industrial action and provided it does not associate itself with any other union.