Appeals court shaves off five years, €10,000 off thieves’ sentences

11-year prison sentence for prolific thieves on 29 charges cut down to six

The Court of Criminal Appeal has reduced the sentences handed to two prolific thieves, after dismissing their conviction on the charge of recidivism.

Antonella Vella and Stephen Borg had been convicted of 29 charges, which included eight counts of theft, two of attempted theft, eight counts of voluntary damage to property and breaching several sets of bail conditions in 2018 and sentenced to 10 and 11 years in prison, respectively.

The couple had appealed, their lawyer David Gatt arguing that the punishments were excessive and had ignored the crucial re-educative and rehabilitative aspects of punishment. The pair’s many crimes had to be taken as a continuous offence, argued the lawyer, as they were part of a drug-dependent theft spree. In addition, they were being punished twice, as their suspended sentences had already been rendered active by the Court of Magistrates before the appealed sentence was given, Gatt said.

The court of Criminal Appeal examined at length the relevant legal doctrines and authoritative authors on the topic of punishment.

Confirming the finding of guilt for the most part, Mr. Justice Aaron Bugeja said however that the charge of recidivism could not be treated lightly by the courts, as if proven, it could have a serious impact on the quality and quantity of punishment imposed on the accused.

An authenticated copy of the previous sentences from which the reference on the criminal record is made is required for a conviction on this charge, he said, together with confirmation as to whether an appeal had been filed and the outcome, as well as whether or not the sentence had been served or forgiven.

The last requisite was not present in this case, said the judge, ruling that therefore it was not possible for the Court of Magistrates to find him guilty of recidivism.

The court overturned the parts of the sentence which found Borg guilty of breaching a conditional discharge and bail and therefore the confiscation of his €28,000 bail bond. Likewise it said, Vella’s €20,000 bail bond ought not to have been confiscated in its totality.

The pair were instead sentenced to isx years in jail, each. Borg was ordered to forfeit €18,000 of his bail bond and Vella €10,000.

Lawyer David Gatt was defence counsel.