Man accused of holding knife to wife's throat walks free after fearful woman drops charges

Domestic abuse case against a 42-year-old Libyan man accused of holding a knife to his wife's neck is dropped after she withdraws her complaint in court, citing concerns for her young children

The criminal case against a father of seven, accused of holding a knife to his wife’s neck during a domestic argument, has been dropped after his wife withdrew her complaint in court.

The accused, a 42-year-old plasterer, had been arrested and charged last month, after his wife had gone to the police about the incident, which allegedly occurred at the Libyan couple’s Birkirkara home.

The woman was slated to testify today, but when the case was called before Magistrate Caroline Farrugia Frendo, prosecuting police inspector Omar Zammit told the court that she had just told him that she wanted to withdraw the charges.

When the accused’s wife took the witness stand, assisted by an Arabic interpreter, the court explained to her that the law granted her the right not to testify against her husband, if she so wished.

The woman replied that she did not want to give evidence, confirming this when given the opportunity to reconsider.

“The witness is visibly scared,” Inspector Zammit protested, but it was pointed out that she was also being assisted by two lawyers, who were present in the courtroom.

The victim’s lawyers, Edward Camilleri and Ibtisam Sadeh, confirmed to the court that their client was indeed afraid, despite having been advised to give evidence today.

The court granted the victim’s lawyers more time to speak with her outside the courtroom. They returned a few minutes later, declaring that the woman had decided not to testify, despite their advice to the contrary.

The magistrate, too, observed that the woman appeared to be very scared, explaining that this led her to believe that she did not want to testify because she was afraid. “In view of this, the court, after viewing the articles of the criminal code, orders the parte civile to testify. The first thing she must tell me is why she doesn’t want to testify.”

“Because of the children,” the woman replied. The magistrate asked how old the children were.  “The eldest is six, the youngest is five months old,” said the woman.

Debono argued that this was “not exactly fear,” and that while lawyers had a duty to defend the client, “we are bring sensitive to parte civile”.

Invited to make submissions on this point, the lawyer said that it was clear that the woman didn’t want to testify. “I don’t know the exact reason why, because she first said that it was because she was afraid and now she is saying it’s because of her children.”

“She is visibly afraid,” Magistrate Farrugia Frendo pointed out, to which point Debono argued that this was not the correct way to evaluate the facts.

Inspector Omar Zammit, who is stationed at the Domestic Violence Unit, took the witness stand to testify about his contact with the woman, in view of what he had seen in court today.

“The day after she filed her report, the accused was arraigned under arrest and was not granted bail. When we informed the victim of this, she indicated that she did not want him to go to prison, she was shocked. She showed the police from the beginning, after his arraignment, that she was unwilling to testify against her husband.”

The police had also visited the couple’s house to observe the situation first hand, he said.

The court, after hearing the inspector’s testimony, called the witness to the stand for the third time, asking her once again whether she still wanted the proceedings against her husband to continue or whether she wished to withdraw them.

The woman declared that she wanted to drop the charges.

Debono submitted that the inspector’s testimony had given the court a better and more genuine picture of the circumstances of this case. “As soon as the accused was taken into custody, she showed that she did not want this to happen,” he said.

The court dictated a note, stating that in view of the woman’s declaration, together with the fact that the couple were parents to five young children, the fact that the woman had consistently been reluctant to give evidence and that she had shown that she did not want her husband to go to prison, it felt that it should give weight to her wishes.

“Therefore, because it is the parte civile who knows what the best interests of her children and her family are, the court does not see that it should continue to force the parte civile to continue with the case and/or testify.”

The court ordered that the criminal proceedings against the man be stopped.

Lawyers Franco Debono and Tiziana Micallef were defence counsel.