Remember the kitten that was killed in Golden Bay last August?
Remember how shocked we were to find out that the Police had not identified or charged a suspect?
Remember how even more shocked we were when we found out that instead of trying to identify the suspect, the Police were pressing charges against some very hurt and angry people who commented on Facebook?
Well, yesterday the cases of those commentators were heard in court.
Their ‘crimes’ were heard and tried in a criminal courtroom in front of a criminal Magistrate, and thankfully they were all found NOT GUILTY.
But hold your horses, because whilst this might sound like good news, it’s not entirely so.
You see, the only reason(s) that this was possible was because the police got it wrong, very wrong in fact.
Based on the Magistrate’s final sentencing document, this is what happened:
- A few months before the alleged murder of the kitten, the law was changed so that public comments such as the ones in this case stopped being considered criminal by law. In essence, thanks to this change in the law, unless comments are considered as a serious threat they cannot be considered a crime. The police seemed to have forgotten this change in the law and processed the case as a criminal one.
This was explained clearly in the Magistrate’s final sentencing document:
“bl-emendi introdotti bl-Att XI tal-2018, li dahal fis-sehh fl-14 ta’ Mejju, 2018, ferm qabel ma ntbghat ir-request lil Facebook, gie introddot proviso gdid ghall-artikolu 49 tal-Kapitolu 399 tal-Ligijiet ta’ Malta, li jghid:
“Iżda sempliċi kliem malafamanti jew dikjarazzjonijiet imlissna jew ippubblikati fuq network ta’ komunikazzjonijiet elettroniċi jew apparat u li jkunu jistgħu jagħtu lok għal azzjoni għal malafama jew inġurja skont l-Att dwar il-Midja u l-Malafama m’għandhomx jagħtu lok għal reat taħt dan l-Att.”
- In addition, the police called in the people who commented to the police station only to inform them that charges were being pressed against them. This is irregular and not supposed to happen. When the police call you in, it is either for questioning, to gather more information or for you to produce additional evidence. In such cases you also have a right to be assisted by a lawyer. In this case, when the accused where called in, none of this happened.
Again Magistrate Frendo Dimech explained this in the final sentencing document by quoting the law:
“fl-ewwel lok il-Qorti ma tistax tifhem x’kien l-iskop li kif jinghad fl-affidavit ta’ WPS 224, l-imputata tigi msejjha “tirrikorri l-ghassa tal-Mosta” sabiex tigi mitkellma fejn giet infurmata bir-rapport kif ukoll bil-messag li nkiteb kif ukoll giet infurmata li kienu ser jinhargu akkuzi fil-konfront taghha.
Illi l-procedura penali taghna hi cjara meta tipprovdi fl-artikolu 355AD tal-Kodici Kriminali l-iskop ghaliex persuna tista’ tigi mitluba tattendi f’Ghassa:
(3) Il-Pulizija tista, bil-fomm jew b’avviż bil-miktub, teħtieġ lil xi persuna li tattendi l-Għassa tal-Pulizija jew xi post ieħor li tindikalha sabiex hemm tagħti dak it-tagħrif u ġġib magħha dawk id-dokumenti li l-Pulizija jistgħu jinħtieġu u jekk dik il-persuna hekk tattendi fl-Għassa tal-Pulizija jew post lilha indikat hija għandha titqies bħala li tkun attendiet dik l-Għassa tal-Pulizija jew post ieħor volontarjament. L-avviż bil-miktub imsemmi f’dan is-subartikolu għandu jkun fih twissija dwar il-konsegwenzi li nnuqqas ta’ tħaris iġib miegħu, kif jinsabu msemmija fis-subartikolu (5).
Mill-istess affidavit ma jirrizultax li l-imputata intalbet taghti xi taghrif jew tipproduci dokumenti kif jissemma f’dak l-artikolu. Lanqas ma jirrizulta li l-imputata giet interrogata bhala persuna suspettata, fejn ghalhekk kienu jiskattaw l-obbligi naxxenti mill-artikolu 355AUA tal-Kodici Kriminali.”
- And finally, the Police asked Facebook for technical information. But this type of evidence is only admissible in criminal court, when the comments are not only defamatory but also threatening. In this case the comments were not considered such and therefore the information obtained from Facebook did not help the Police’s case.
Illi fit-tieni lok jigi rilevat li l-pulizija meta talbet l-informazzjoni minghand Facebook ghamlet dan taht il-premessa li l-att addebitat lill-imputata kien jikkostitiwxxi “serious crime” ai termini tar- Regolament 17 tar-Regolamenti dwar l-Ipproċessar ta’ Data Personali fis-Settur tal-Komunikazzjonijiet Elettroniċi (L.S. 586.01):2
“reati gravi” tfisser kull reat li l-piena tagħhom hija priġunerija ta’ mhux anqas minn sena u għall-finijiet ta’ dawn ir-regolamenti jinkludu r-reati msemmija fl-artikoli 48(1)(d) u 49 ta’ l-Att biex jirregola Komunikazzjoni Elettroniċi;
Izda bl-emendi introdotti bl-Att XI tal-2018, li dahal fis-sehh fl-14 ta’ Mejju, 2018, ferm qabel ma ntbghat ir-request lil Facebook, gie introddot
Based on the above 3 reasons, all the ‘criminal’ cases were thrown out and the commentators were released with no penalty.
Having said that, the owners of the restaurant, whom I can only assume are now up in arms with anger, can still file a civil case against the commentators, and the damages there can reach thousands of Euro.
I’ve personally lost hope that the police will pursue the real perpetrator of this crime so let’s just hope that common sense prevails. Whilst I understand everyone’s anger and pain, there are other more effective remedies that can be sought, other than getting sued for defamation on Facebook.
The final sentencing documents of all the cases can be found online. I’m providing a link to one of them here (the reasoning for the judgement is the same for all)