Justice is not a game

The law cannot be seen to serve some defendants better than others, otherwise, we shall be left to conclude that justice is a game

15 November 2016, 9:03am
To be fair to former Malta international Daniel Bogdanovic, the charges against him have yet to be proven in court
To be fair to former Malta international Daniel Bogdanovic, the charges against him have yet to be proven in court
At a time when Malta is making strides in the fight against domestic violence, it is to say the least demoralising to witness a suspect, arrested on domestic violence charges, released from police custody to take part in a football match.

To be fair to former Malta international Daniel Bogdanovic, the charges against him have yet to be proven in court, and the maxim of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ applies. Nonetheless, there is a judicial procedure to be respected. Others have been arrested on similar charges, but were denied bail. Yet Bogdanovic was granted release from his arrest just hours after being hauled into custody by the Gozo police, to make a 3pm kick-off the next day for a Gozo first division match.

Nor was there any official police press statement on Saturday, 29 October, when the 36-year-old Xewkija Tigers midfielder was placed under arrest by the police over a domestic incident that included threats made against his wife, and for carrying a licensed weapon outside the proper premises.

It was only on Monday at 1:30pm, that the police issued a statement stating that ‘a man’ – name withheld – had been arraigned before Magistrate Joanne Vella Cuschieri, and released from his arrest under certain conditions.

But in between his arrest on Saturday, and his court-ordered release from arrest on Monday, Daniel Bogdanovic was playing against Kercem in a league match that Xewkija Tigers went on to win.

This would already be anomalous enough in itself, but there is more. According to a police source, a call from a government ministry official was crucial to his early release. “It was a call that came straight from one of the ministerial secretariats, to a senior police official in Gozo aware of Bogdanovic’s arrest. Xewkija needed him to play Kercem, and he was allowed to play before being presented under arrest, officially, in the Gozo courts,” MaltaToday’s source, who has insisted on anonymity, said.

Another source privy to the court proceedings said the unorthodox ‘release’ was no secret among footballing circles. “When knowing that Bogdanovic was being arraigned for an incident that happened Saturday evening, and having seen him smiling in the Xewkija line-up the day after, you instantly start questioning: how is it possible?”

All this raises serious questions that go far beyond the actual case itself. So soon after former Interior Minister Emmanuel Mallia resigned over his ministry’s intrusion into an official police communication, we have further evidence that a supposedly independent Police Force is still heavily influenced by the political class. 

One can only question the independence of the police under such circumstances; and the dangers of a loss of trust in Malta’s law enforcement capability cannot be overstated.

Moreover, the incident sends out the worst possible message to the victims, witnesses and reporters of domestic violence cases. The nature of the crime itself already makes it difficult for victims to come forward with their allegations. One can only imagine the sense of futility and indignation, as the alleged victim sees the alleged perpetrator released to play a football match just hours after his arrest. Even if not guilty, the sight makes an instant mockery of the judicial protest. It undermines the seriousness of the justice system itself.

There are, of course, procedures whereby charged suspects may be released from preventive custody. But winning a football match certainly isn’t one of them. This newspaper is not suggesting that Bogdanovic  – or anyone else in similar circumstances – should be denied any possibility afforded to him at law. But the law cannot be seen to serve some defendants better than others.

It is therefore incumbent on the authorities to take the investigation with the utmost seriousness. Otherwise, we shall be left to conclude that justice is a game.

An unheeded call for change

Donald Trump’s victory in the US Presidential elections has shocked and disorientated large parts of the world. On the surface, the shockwaves are justified. It is indeed disquieting that the new US President is someone who has incited hatred against Muslims, Latinos and refugees; insulted women and the disabled; earned the support of hate groups like the KKK and the extreme right; defended the use of torture, and – arguably most serious of all - thinks climate change is a hoax, while supporting the coal lobby.

But one must also acknowledge that Donald Trump’s win should not really have been unexpected. For better or worse, on Tuesday the American people voted for change. It was not the first time in this campaign that a widespread thirst for change had been manifest; yet while the Democrats offered a strong candidate from the traditional political perspective – one who promised stability and moderation – it would be futile to deny that Hillary Clinton was also a continuity candidate with little desire to shake up the system.

From this perspective, it is a pity that only one party – the Republicans – responded to the electorate’s ‘crie-de-coeur’; and that neither party nominated a candidate who could harness this desire for change in less overtly deplorable ways. There is a lesson here for all observing countries, Malta included: one takes the electorate for granted only at one’s own dire peril.