Lawyer questions why Malta has not introduced electronic tagging system

Accused charged with domestic violence

Electronic tag (File photo)
Electronic tag (File photo)

A lawyer has questioned why Malta has not introduced an electronic tagging system for defendants in criminal cases, during a domestic violence arraignment on Friday.

The issue, which has popped up in court sporadically for at least the past decade, was raised by lawyer Mario Mifsud during the arraignment of a man accused of threatening to kill his partner and her niece while under the influence of cocaine. 

The issue of electronic tagging has popped up sporadically in court over the past ten years, but so far only the prison authorities have introduced an ankle bracelet tracking system for inmates granted prison leave.

It emerged again on Friday during the arraignment of the 41-year-old man, a chef from Floriana, before Magistrate Joseph Gatt, accused of having caused his partner to fear violence, insulting and threatening her, as well as causing her slight injuries and relapsing.

The man pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Inspector Sherona Buhagiar, prosecuting, told the court that on May 16, the alleged victim had gone to the Domestic Violence Unit to report that the defendant had threatened her life several times in the previous 48 hours. “He told her that he would end her life, kill her and her niece and put them in the ground.”

“During yesterday’s incident, he had grabbed a broomstick, telling her that he was going to kill her and not leave any visual marks to prevent her from being able to file a police report.”

The woman’s injuries were certified to be slight.

The man’s partner was called to the witness stand by legal procurator Colin Galea, who is assisting her as parte civile. She told the court that she wanted to withdraw her police report.

“Your risk assessment is high,” pointed out the magistrate.

“When he’s under the influence of drink and drugs, they cause him to act this way, otherwise he is a good man,” she replied.

Mifsud asked her whether her request had been prompted by threats “made by anyone: him his lawyer, or his family.”

“There were no threats. I’ve always said that it’s help that he needs,” she replied. “When he’s under the influence of drugs and alcohol he becomes paranoid.  I’m a grandmother and I think that he told me that I would not see my grandson again just to hurt me.”

A previous incident had already been reported to the police and was the subject of other court proceedings, which were still ongoing. “Summary proceedings,” Mifsud told the court.

Mifsud argued that the law gave the victim the option not to testify and continue with the proceedings, and also gave the court the freedom to decide to continue with the case anyway. “But if the victim doesn’t testify, this case will be the lamest duck ever, because there is no other evidence of any other type.”

Making impassioned submissions the lawyer told the court that his client had a drug problem which needed to be addressed. “The country denies that there is a drug problem and has legalised marijuana. This is a huge mistake.

“By legalising it, first we take some cannabis, then we progress to a line or two of cocaine, then we put it in a drink, and eventually we end up smoking it and the result is absolute paranoia,” said the lawyer.

Addressing his client in the dock, Mifsud said “the cocaine you guys take here is mostly dust and other poisons, don’t think you’re taking the sort of cocaine you find in Columbia. The added impurities cause even more deleterious effects to the brain than the drug itself.”

“I am nothing if not a man of my word. If this man chooses to go down this path of so-called drugs, he can take it and leave me and the woman alone,” warned the lawyer.

Mifsud argued that while the legislator treated domestic violence harshly, “at the same time it wanted the victim to have her say too.”

“The woman was right to file a police report, but the legislator provides her with this opportunity to withdraw it.”

Replying to the court’s question about whether the defendant was attending drug rehabilitation, the lawyer said that before undergoing rehab, he needed to first consult with a psychiatrist, then begin treatment for alcoholism and only then would he be ready to address his drug problem.

Inspector Buhagiar told the court that the victim had told her that she filed the report because she feared for her safety due to the man’s threats. “But now that she has testified in the way she did, I leave it up to the court to decide.”

Galea submitted that both he and his client, the alleged victim, believed the couple’s relationship was “salvageable.”

Returning to the courtroom after retiring to chambers for several minutes to deliberate, the magistrate ruled that it was not in the woman’s interests that these proceedings cease. “The report by [social services agency] Appogg is not one that should be ignored in the circumstances of this case, and from what has emerged in court this was not a one-off incident.”

“The law gives the court discretion [to decide whether or not to uphold such a request] and this court, in view of what it has heard and seen, cannot in good conscience say that it is in her interests to order the cessation of these proceedings.”

The defence requested bail, which Inspector Buhagiar objected to, arguing that the woman had yet to testify, as well as the risk of another incident. “The woman told us that it was not the first time this happened and there are other domestic violence cases already pending against the defendant.”

This did not go down well with the defence. “We have the victim telling the court that she wants him to be treated and not go to prison. After the alleged incident she chose to stay with him. At the time of his arrest, she was there. This is an argument between two people in love, but there is also the demonic aspect of drugs,” argued the lawyer.

On the issue of bail, we cannot have any tampering with evidence, because the principal witness has decided not to testify, although she can change her mind at a future stage.

Mifsud rued the fact that when he was legal counsel to the Corradino Correctional Facility, he had introduced remotely trackable ankle bracelets, three years ago. “But for some reason this has not been adopted in the wider criminal justice system.”

“Yes, it is a serious case, even big cases are serious, and people facing serious charges should always be arraigned under arrest, but now we are requesting that he be placed under a treatment order.”

But the court, in view of the nature of the charges and the fact that it had no peace of mind that he would not reoffend, rejected the request for bail.

The magistrate asked whether the defence would like it to issue a treatment order, but the lawyer refused. “No, now that he’s going to be in prison, he can carry on making a mess of it.”