Constitutional Court rejects case of man wrongfully convicted of daughter's rape

A man who was imprisoned in 2011 after being wrongfully convicted of violating his daughter will be taking his case to the European Court, after Malta's Constitutional Court declared his human rights had not been broken

A man who was imprisoned in 2011 after being wrongfully convicted of defiling his daughter - who later testified to having been coerced into falsely accusing him by her mother - will be taking his case to Strasbourg after the Constitutional Court declared that his human rights had not been breached.

In a judgement handed down in September last year  by the First Hall of the Civil Court in its Constitutional jurisdiction, Judge Joseph R. Micallef had upheld Emanuel Camilleri's complaint that he had suffered a miscarriage of justice, ruling that although the justice system had functioned correctly, the daughter’s false testimony had misled the application of justice. Camilleri was, however, subsequently struck off the sex offenders register. Both Camilleri and the Commissioner of Police had filed appeals against this sentence.

In a judgment handed down today, the Constitutional Court, presided by Chief Justice Silvio Camilleri, Judge Tonio Mallia and Judge Noel Cuschieri threw out both appeals.

Camilleri’s primary complaint had been the fact that he had been found guilty and that this, in view of his daughter’s subsequent admission of having falsely accused him, was in itself a breach of his right to a fair hearing which was compounded by shortcomings in the criminal justice process that failed to reveal the truth.

But the Constitutional Court disagreed with this argument, saying:  “It cannot be said, as the plaintiff appears to suggest, that the court gave no importance to the fact that the girl wanted to change her version- to the contrary , it thoroughly investigated it to reach a conclusion as to what to believe.”

“In the light of everything that happened during the criminal proceedings it cannot be said that the decision reached by previous courts was one that they could not have reasonably reached...Certainly it cannot be said, as the plaintiff is claiming, that his conviction had been ‘a conviction on weak evidence.’”

The courts had not ignored any relevant testimony and had given every witness the weight they deserved, the plaintiff had not been deprived of any opportunity to present his case and had been allowed to cross-examine prosecution witnesses, pointed out the judges.

The fact that there was a decision that says that the girl had perjured herself does not by itself mean that the Camilleri was not given a fair hearing.  “Not every ‘wrong’ decision  is a breach of fair hearing rights,” ruled the judges.

The court noted the particular irony of this case, in which the plaintiff had argued that as his daughter had perjured herself, this could not constitute a final, unchangeable judgment. If this were to be the case, observed the court, there would never be a final judgment as in every lawsuit a witness can subsequently be found to have given false testimony.

It also noted that the girl had been convicted of perjury on her own admission and without any other witnesses being heard and despite it having emerged in the case against her father that she had been under pressure to recant her testimony.

“The Attorney General appealed and an anomalous situation was created whereby the Attorney General was appealing against the finding of guilt, and the defence arguing with all strength in favour of guilt."

Camilleri had claimed that Inspector Louise Calleja had breached his rights by failing to believe that he was innocent, despite a medical expert confirming that the girl was still a virgin. “It is close to absurd to say that a prosecutor breaches the accused’s rights to a fair hearing when he continues to prosecute because he doesn’t believe the accused’s claims of innocence.”

“What the plaintiff isn’t saying is that the medical expert also said that in sexual abuse cases, up to 40-50% of cases, there will not be any findings.”

Inspector Calleja would have been failing in her duties if she had not prosecuted, more so in view of the apparent vulnerability of the alleged victim, said the court.

Despite all this, the court observed that it could grant a remedy, not only when there was a breach of a fundamental human right, but also if it thought there was a risk of one being breached.

“In the case before us today, the first court found serious doubts as to the guilt of the accused and therefore the freedom from error of the sentences that had found him guilty and punished him. Had the court not revoked those sentences and their punishments, there would have likely been a breach of rights.

“Perhaps it would have been more correct had the first court, instead of simply revoking the sentences finding guilt, ordered that the proceedings start afresh, because it is a court of criminal jurisdiction and not a constitutional jurisdiction that decides on guilt or innocence.

“It appears that the first court gave too much weight to the plaintiff’s insistence that , after the sentence against his daughter …’his innocence had been definitely established. ’What happened is that there are two sentences, both final and unchangeable, one against the plaintiff and the other against his daughter which are incompatible.”

The only way for Camilleri’s innocence to be definitively established is through a criminal trial held with correct procedural safeguards that would evaluate the evidence in the light of the fact that his daughter had given false testimony against him, said the court.

But the court said it also understood that ordering a retrial 15 years after the fact would not be in the interest of the parties or justice. “For this reason it was wise of the first court to, despite the finding of no breach of fundamental rights, revoking the sentences and stopping there.”

For this reason, said the court, it was rejecting both the appeal made by Camilleri and that by the Attorney General.

Camilleri said he intends to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.