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Court overturns Russian mother's conviction for false child abuse report

Russian mother’s conviction and 13-month sentence are overturned on appeal

matthew_agius
Matthew Agius
28 December 2016, 4:33pm
The Court of Criminal Appeal has overturned a Russian mother's conviction and 13-month suspended prison sentence which she had been handed in February on charges of falsely accusing her estranged husband of sexually abusing their child.

In the February judgment, the prosecuting police inspector had been listed as testifying that “at one point she [the child] just turned over to her mother and said something in Russian, which I immediately asked the mother to translate. The mother said the child mentioned something related to pornography.”

But after letting the child carry on talking about how her father used to smack and mistreat her, the inspector asked her about this pornography. “She replied that whilst touching her “patata” the father had red pornographic eyes.”

He had asked the child what she meant by the phrase “red pornographic eyes” and whether anyone had instructed her to say this. “She repeated that her mummy had told her to say so.”

The mother had filed an appeal, arguing that the first court was wrong in concluding that the prosecution had proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt, as it hadn't proved intent on her part.

She said she had also taken issue with the “rather excessive punishment,” arguing that she “acted as she did simply because she wanted to protect her daughter.”

Chief Justice Silvio Camilleri, in a judgement delivered earlier this month, noted that “the Court in this case finds itself in a rather difficult position, simply because the nature of the first court’s evaluation of the evidence produced before it, in so far as the finding of guilt of the first charge is concerned, is not clearly laid out in the first court’s judgement.”

“It should be pointed out at the outset that what is in issue is not whether the appellant accused the father before a competent authority with an offence of which he was innocent but whether the appellant accused the father before a competent authority with an offence of which she knew he was innocent.”

“Therefore, the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that the accused knew that her husband was innocent of sexually abusing of their minor children.”

Moreover, the prosecution was also required to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the accusation was intended at exposing the father to the possibility of criminal proceedings and punishment, the judge remarked.

Chief Justice's arguments

The Chief Justice pointed out – his  displeasure clear – that no recording of the children's police interviews had ever been exhibited and neither had the minors been produced to testify via videoconferencing, as was the established practice in such cases.

“The only evidence of what they said is indirect by way of the testimony of Inspector Melvin Camilleri and others.”

The court further noted that despite the fact that the Russian mother's command of the English language was “manifestly lacking” to the point of being hardly comprehensible in places and nonsense in others, no interpreter had been appointed.

The accused’s husband categorically denied ever sexually abusing his children or improperly touching them, Camilleri noted. “And the Court has no reason not to believe him. The fact remains, however, that [one of ] his children...had repeatedly alleged that he had improperly touched her.”

”She might not have been truthful in what she said, which is quite likely, since Inspector Melvyn Camilleri, who is a qualified investigative psychologist, testified that both children manifested parental alienation throughout their interview and in that the child belittles and insults the father on an ongoing basis which could also be the result of indoctrination by the other party.”

But the fact that the children might have been untruthful in their allegations against their father did not mean that their allegations could not have given their mother cause to suspect wrongdoing on the father's part, the court pointed out. 

“It is also true that the children might have been influenced by the animosity which the accused showed against their father but the fact remains that they did make the allegations they made and it cannot be excluded that because of those allegations the accused was given cause to suspect that the father might have acted inappropriately towards the children.”

After having examined in detail the state of the evidence produced before the first court, the court said it was “of the firm opinion that it cannot be reasonably concluded that the prosecution proved beyond reasonable doubt, according to law, that when the appellant filed her report against [her husband] with the police she had known that he was innocent.”

As an essential element of the offence was not proven the appellant could not be found guilty and must be acquitted, the court held.

Lawyer Jean Paul Grech appeared for the mother.

The names of the parties are being withheld at the order of the court

matthew_agius
Court reporter Matthew Agius is a Legal Procurator and Commissioner for Oaths. Prior to re...
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