Man on bail over fatal 2020 Mqabba shooting, fined €250 for driving without a licence

The defendant was accused of driving without a licence or insurance cover after a collision in Żurrieq 

Owen Schembri (File Photo)
Owen Schembri (File Photo)

21-year-old Owen Schembri of Kirkop, one of two men on bail after being accused in connection with a fatal shooting at Mqabba in July 2020, has been fined €250 for driving without a licence. He was acquitted of a second charge of driving an uninsured vehicle, which spared him potential prison time and a much larger fine.

In separate proceedings, Schembri and his friend Leon Debono are accused of shooting Saviour Gaffarena dead and grievously injuring his cousin Vince Gaffarena in July 2020. 

The two defendants,  who were aged 18 and 19 at the time, had subsequently been granted bail against a €50,000 bond, later that same year.

But in September 2022, Schembri was once again in trouble with the law, this time being accused of driving without a licence or insurance cover after a collision in Żurrieq.

A police sergeant had testified via affidavit, telling Magistrate Yana Micallef Stafrace how she had been dispatched to deal with a report of two vehicles that had collided in Triq il-Belt Valletta, Żurrieq, at around 10:00am on 16 September 2022.

When she arrived at the scene, the sergeant had only found the other driver, as Schembri had already been taken to hospital by then, she said. The other car’s front mudguard and bumper were damaged.

A Transport Malta official confirmed to the court that Schembri did not hold any type of driving licence at the time. 

A representative from Elmo Insurance Ltd had also testified that the motorcycle Schembri had been riding had been insured in someone else’s name, on an “insured only” basis. The witness explained that a person who does not hold a driving licence is not covered by an insurance policy and that policies issued on an “insured only” basis - as was the case here- only covered the driver indicated in the policy. 

Schembri subsequently pleaded guilty in March 2023, but only with respect to the first offence, which was punishable by a fine of up to €1,200 or imprisonment for up to one year.

The court, however, acquitted Schembri of driving a vehicle without insurance cover, which carried a potential fine of between €2,329.37 and €4,658.75, as well as imprisonment for up to three months. The magistrate shared the defence’s view that the fact that an insurance policy had been issued over the vehicle, albeit to a different driver, rendered the charge of driving without insurance cover inapplicable. 

The applicable section of the law states that “ shall not be lawful for any person to use or to cause or permit any other person to use a motor vehicle on a road unless there is in force in relation to the user of the vehicle by that person or that other person, as the case may be, such a policy of insurance in respect of third-party risks…”

A number of past judgments on this matter had established that the law was “clear and left no room for interpretation” in that the simple fact that an insurance policy exists, excludes the offence entirely. 

In line with those judgments, which were also cited in the decision, the magistrate ruled that, while the issue of whether or not that policy covered the person who was actually behind the wheel at the time of the incident could lead to consequences of a civil nature between the insurer and the insured, it was “entirely extraneous” to the offence cited by the prosecution in the charges.

Lawyers Arthur Azzopardi and Jacob Magri assisted Schembri.