Jailed Paceville rapist to be re-sentenced after appeal over missing date

Judge orders re-sentencing of Paceville rapist after lawyers request annulment of conviction because the date on which his sentence had been pronounced was not stated on the judgment

The Court of Criminal Appeal has ordered the re-sentencing of a convicted rapist, after his lawyers attempted to annul the conviction because the date on which his sentence had been pronounced was absent.

In 2018, 33-year-old Eyob Melake Ecobagaber from Eritrea was charged with engaging in non-consensual sex with the woman, detaining her against her will, slightly injuring her, recidivism and committing an offence during the operative period of a conditional discharge.

The case was decided in March 2022, with the court finding Ecobagaber guilty of all the charges except recidivism and sentencing him to 9 years in jail, as well as ordering him to pay €3,903.47 in court costs.

The victim had given the police a description of her assailant, saying she had bitten him on the face while trying to defend herself. The accused was later spotted and tried to escape police before being taken into custody with the help of bystanders. The victim identified her assailant at the police station.

A subsequent medical examination confirmed that the woman had been raped and had suffered injuries as a result of the violent attack. A DNA expert appointed by the court also found traces of the accused’s DNA on the victim’s underwear.

After his conviction, Ecobagaber had engaged different legal counsel and filed an appeal. His new lawyers, Franco Debono and Francesca Zarb, had argued that the judgement against their client did not specify the date on which it was given. The copy in the case file had “7 March 2022” written on it by hand. The Court of Criminal Appeal, presided by Mr. Justice Neville Camilleri heard the two court deputy registrars who had handled the judgement testify that the handwriting was not theirs and say that they did not know whose handwriting it was.

Handing down judgement on the appeal today, Mr. Justice Camilleri pointed out that jurisprudence had established that not every irregularity or imprecision found in a judgement given by the Courts of Magistrates leads to its nullity. The law specified that a valid judgement must state the facts over which the defendant was found guilty, state the punishment it was handing down and mention the articles of the law which deal with the offence in question. These requirements must be scrupulously observed, said the judge, so as to avoid the defendant from having any doubt about his conviction.

This did not mean that, in order to be valid, judgments had to be free from every error, no matter how minor, said the judge.

But the court also went on to observe that although the failure to indicate the precise date of sentencing was not one of the requisites listed in the law, over the years the courts had interpreted similar incidents as the absence of a detail that was indispensable for the validity of the judgement. In question.

“The date on a sentence is not unnecessary formalism, but an essential part of the substance of the judgement, in that it provides certainty about when judgement was given…it also establishes the point of departure from when certain consequences of the finding of guilt begin to count.”

The appeal court judge upheld the first ground of Ecobagaber’s appeal, but in line with case law, did not declare the entire proceedings before the Court of Magistrate to be null. Instead, it sent the acts of the case back to the Court of Magistrates “so that the appellant will be once again placed in the position he had been immediately before the sentence was pronounced and so that the sentence may be given again according to law.”