The law is an ass(hole)!

Unlike the police – where there is still room to argue (however unconvincingly) that their precise responsibilities are at best ‘unclear’ – the law-courts certainly DO have the right to decide, at their own discretion, whether or not a case actually warrants being tried, at all

Court (Photo: James Bianchi/mediatoday)
Court (Photo: James Bianchi/mediatoday)

You’ve got to hand it to Charles Dickens, though. He may have written some of the most ‘morally edifying’ novels of his generation – from a Victorian perspective, anyway – but he somehow always instilled a certain level of basic human decency, into even his most nefarious villains.

Well... not always, perhaps. There is certainly nothing remotely ‘decent’ about Bill Sykes, for instance (whose brutal murder of Nancy made me regret reading even an abridged version of ‘Oliver Twist’, aged around nine...)

What about Fagin, however? A criminal so utterly depraved, and so devoid of any scruples whatsoever, that he even ‘grooms’ innocent little street-children, into becoming hardened criminals...?

Ah, but let’s face it: that’s not the impression you actually get of Fagin, from reading the book. Because even if all that is perfectly true (and Dickens doesn’t even try to ‘sugar-coat’ it, all that much); Fagin still remains around the only character, in the entire novel, who also doubles up as something of a ‘father figure’, to those same street-urchins.

Not only does he offer them a roof over the heads, and food on the table (without them even having to ‘ask for more’...) but he also brings laughter into Oliver’s otherwise miserable life: probably, for the first time ever.

And it doesn’t help, of course, that all the other characters (and institutions) that were SUPPOSED to do all that, for the children in their care, all turn out to be lacking in precisely those same characteristics: ‘compassion’, ‘tenderness’, ‘affection’... in a nutshell, ‘basic human decency.’

Yet it still falls to a representative of those same, indefensible institutions (Bumble the Beadle: not the most villainous character, perhaps; but certainly, the least likeable) to utter the single most memorable line, in the entire novel.

Confronted by the fact that Victorian law actally ‘held a man to be responsible for the actions of his wife’, he blurts out:

“If the law supposes that... the law is a ass! [sic] A idiot! [sic] If that's the eye of the law, the law's a bachelor; and the worse I may wish the law is, that his eye may be opened by experience — by EXPERIENCE!"

Honestly, though: who, in his hearts of hearts, cannot fully sympathise with the hapless Mr Bumble, at that precise instant? And who can possibly bring themselves to disagree with him, when he makes the point (in different words), that... what ‘experience’ are these idiotic laws even based on, to begin with? What, in a word, does the Law even ‘know’, about the issues it is supposedly regulating?

Make no mistake: Mr Bumble was onto something, there. Which, of course, brings me directly to the little legal issue that seems to have gotten everyone’s knickers in a twist, all of a sudden. That is to say: the fact that Pastor Gordon John Manche has now filed THREE (3) criminal complaints against comedians/people in showbiz, over the grave crime of (quite literally) ‘calling him names’...

...and – even more bizarrely – the Malta Police Force has CHOSEN to actually investigate all three of those manifestly vexatious complaints... and even to press criminal charges against those ‘criminals’, in court!

Now: in case you’re wondering why I placed so much emphasis on the word ‘CHOSEN’... well, it’s because there seems to be this incredibly widespread misconception, out there – shared by, among others, both Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri, and Justice Minister Owen Bonnici – that the police are somehow ‘constrained’ to take action, on each individual criminal report that they ever receive (or in other words: they have no actual ‘CHOICE’, but to prosecute in all such cases).

Sorry to have to ask, but... where do people even get such absurd ideas from, anyway? And what do they even mean, by ‘the police have no choice’, when it comes to deciding which criminal complants are actually worth investigating... and which are (very evidently) not?

Of course, the police have a ‘choice’! And I can very easily demonstrate this right now, if I really wanted to... by simply walking down to the nearest police station (which happens to be the Msida one), and filing a criminal complaint against... well, pretty much anyone who has ever ‘insulted me’: ever, at any point in the recent past. [Note: I won’t mention names, because... the list is quite long, you know].

But let’s be serious, here. What do you think would really happen, if I were to actually do something like that – and report, say, my next-door neighbour, for calling me ‘an asshole’ as we walked past each other in the street the other day?

There can be doubt about it whatsoever, can there? Not only would the police instantly dismiss my complaint, without so much as even a micro-second’s hesitation... but they would probably send me, too, flying bodily out of the Msida station: headlong into the middle of Rue D’Argens...

And quite rightly, I hasten to add. Because let’s face it: if they were to actually ‘investigate’ even just a single complaint, of that particular nature  - in a country where ‘insulting other people’ seems to have become something of a ‘national pastime’, of late – I mean, do I even need to go on?

It would be the equivalent of ‘flinging the floodgates wide open’, to an unstoppable deluge of similar, idiotic police reports in future... at a time when the police themselves are already complaining, that they don’t have enough ‘manpower’ to deal with even the more serious crimes that occasionally get reported (look under ‘Gauci, Bernice’ for further details).

And yet, when Pastor Gordon John Manche nonchalantly walked into a police station – which he must have done, at one point – to file a criminal repoirt that is not just similar, but ‘identical’ to the ficitious one I have just decribed... not only did the police take this laughable complaint with all the seriousness that they should have (but evidently didn’t) reserved for Bernice Gauci’s reports about being the target of DEATH-THREATS, no less...

...   but, unaccountably, so did the law-courts! Because as far as I am aware, it takes more than just a ‘police arraignment’, for any given case to actually wind up in court. No, it actually has to be ‘approved’, by the sitting magistrate before whom the case is presented (that is, in fact, the whole point of the ‘compilation-of-evidence stage’: to determine whether there is enough evidence, for any given case to actually go ahead.)

So at this level, at least: there can be no question about it whatsoever. Unlike the police – where there is still room to argue (however unconvincingly) that their precise responsibilities are at best ‘unclear’ – the law-courts certainly DO have the right to decide, at their own discretion, whether or not a case actually warrants being tried, at all.

And in all three of the above-mentioned cases: Malta’s law-courts CHOSE to let the prosecution go ahead... even though, each and every single time, those magistrates could very easily have ‘chosen’ another option: i.e., to simply ‘throw those cases out of court’ (if nothing else, because they constitute an obvious – and somewhat glaring – waste of the law-courts precious time, and resources).

But in these cases in particular: there is yet another reason for both the police, and the law-courts, to have simply ‘send Pastor Gordon-John Manche packing’, once and for all. And this time, it concerns not the police; nor the law-courts; but...

...the law itself. And this is where we are forced to return,  once more, to Bumble the Beadle, and his reverberating ‘crie-de-couer’ about the asinine nature of the entire legal profession.

Because on one hand, we have an article of Maltese law - Criminal Code Art. 339, to be precise - which holds that: “any person who UTTERS INSULTS or threats [my emphasis: and please note that the words ‘utters’ actually implies a ‘spoken’ insult, more than a written one] is guilty of a contravention”...

... and on the other, we have the Constitution of the Republic of Malta (which, by the way, enshrines the entire Universal Charter of Human Rights: including the one about ‘freedom of expression’) which holds that it is actually ‘illegal’, for anyone to try to stifle – as Manche is so clearly doing - other people’s right to ‘freely express their own opinion’.

Not only that: but there is also an abundance of European Court of Human Rights case law, which establishes that (to quote ‘Handyside vs the UK’, for the umpteenth time this week): ‘freedom of expression’ also includes ‘the right to shock, offend, disturb’ (and yes, folks: even to ‘INSULT’).

So to sum all that up for you, in a nutshell: we now have a situation where, a) the police; b) the law-courts, and; c) Maltese law, in its entirety, all seem to be entirely oblivious to this teenie-weenie little contradiction, between their own actions, and ... um... the Universal Charter of Human Rights.

Which also means that – in the (admittedly unlikely) event of an actual conviction, in any of those three trials – Malta can expect to face yet another wave of expensive ECHR cases... which, I need hardly add, we would not stand an ice-cube’s chance in Hell, of actually winning.

And the reason for this state of affairs, if you ask me, has a good deal less to do with the ‘hyper-sensitivity of Pastor Gordon-John Manche’, himself; than with the fact that all three major components of Malta’s legal system, are quite clearly ‘ignorant’ – in the literal sense of the word – of the ‘law’ that they themselves are supposed to be enforcing.

Or to put it Bumble the Beadle’s way: the law really is an ‘ass’, after all (and let’s face it” at times, it can be a bit of an ‘asshole’, too...)