Justice system needs reformers not bullies
The front-page picture carried on The Times yesterday showing a man sticking his tongue out as he waited to appear in court in connection with Sunday’s disturbance in Marsaxlokk is an affront to both the justice system and to society.
The €60 fine imposed on him and another four men rightly angers law-abiding citizens but also those members of the judiciary and of the security forces who daily stick their necks out to ensure the rule of law prevails.
As it happens, The Times yesterday also gave front-page coverage to a declaration by the Chief Justice that “old practices need to change” if the law courts are to deliver a better service and also cut delays.
Of course, the two instances are not directly linked but some correlation there is, certainly within the ambit of the proper administration of justice.
Given that the five men pleaded guilty to swearing in public and breaching the peace and were cleared of slightly injuring a Marsaxlokk resident, it could be argued from a purely legal viewpoint that the punishment was within the parameters of the law. But beyond the confines of legal niceties, there is so much to say.
The incident started when a group of Marsaxlokk residents protested against the presence of an illegal campsite. Tempers flared and a group of men were filmed manhandling a resident.
The footage was shown on timesofmalta.com and TV news bulletins and this is probably what pushed the police to act fast and arraign the five men the following day.
Society applauds when a clear message is sent that taking the law into one’s hand will not be tolerated. But law-abiding citizens would have also appreciated were the five men at least made to wear proper attire when appearing in court. After all, if one were to appear in court without a tie, one is likely to be fined for contempt of court.
The police accused the five men of slightly injuring the resident as certified by a medical doctor. The court cleared them of this charge even though there was certainly adequate photographic evidence clearly showing the resident being beaten. He also testified in court that he suffered a bad headache as a result of the assault.
One of the men was even found guilty of breaching a suspended sentence but, rather than bringing into force the suspended jail term, the court extended the term of sushc suspension.
The outcome of the court case sent a very bad message, almost one that crime may just pay in some instances or, rather, that crime may be affordable when it come to settling one’s scores.
The police were right to decide to appeal the sentence.
Evidently, there is something – perhaps many things – that is not working in the justice system. Otherwise, the conclusion of this case would have been quite different.
Therefore, Chief Justice Silvio Camilleri deserves everybody’s backing when he makes an appeal, as he has done this week, for all those involved in the system – the judiciary, lawyers and clients – to make a big, genuine effort to change their old systems and ensure that the agreed reforms worked.
The goodwill of all stakeholders is essential. But the powers-that-be must then exercise leadership, followed by resolute action. Change is never easy. However, as Dr Camilleri noted, once we get down to it we are likely to find out that the challenge is not as tough as we thought it would be.