Qala mayor and secretary acquitted of criminal responsibility for grass cutter accident

The court made an appeal to the authorities to ensure that the man received all the medical and financial assistance he required following the 'unfortunate incident'

A magistrate has made an appeal to the authorities not to abandon a man who was grievously injured with a grass-cutter in an accident whilst working in a government work experience scheme, as he acquitted a mayor and executive secretary of criminal responsibility for the accident.

Joseph Buttigieg was severely injured and left partially disabled when his hand was struck by a grass cutter being operated by Qala mayor Paul Buttigieg in July last year.

Paul Buttigieg and Marcia Borg, the mayor and executive secretary of the council were subsequently charged with negligently causing the man’s injury and failing to abide by health and safety legislation.

Magistrate Joe Mifsud began his judgment on the matter by making a detailed study of the applicable doctrines and case law related to liability for an involuntary act. He pointed out that the court was bound by the charges as presented and could not change or go beyond the parameters laid out by the prosecution.

Noting that Paul Buttigieg and Marcia Borg were charged both in their own name and as mayor and executive secretary, respectively, the court explained that it was not necessary for the police to do this, but if they were going to charge them because of vicarious liability this would have to be specified in the charges.

“In this case you have a person who is the Mayor of the town but was carrying out works he had been ordered to do by the Construction and Maintenance Unit of the Projects and Development department of the Ministry for Gozo, not in his capacity as mayor,” said the court.

To date, mayors are not full-time employees of the council but receive an honorarium, the court pointed out.

Likewise, the injured party was employed by the Community Workers Foundation and therefore was not an employee of the Qala local council. He had been engaged under the Community Workers Scheme, an initiative introduced in a bid to help individuals get some working experience and position themselves better when looking for a job. 

The prosecution failed to bring evidence that Paul Buttigieg and Marica Borg are the mayor and executive secretary of the Qala local council because the witness they summoned to confirm this was the Chief of Staff of the Parliamentary secretary, a political person of trust, and not a representative of the Director of Local Government.

“There is absolutely no connection other than the OHSA saying that the grass cutter involved in the incident was the property of the council.” Some two years ago authorisation was given to Paul Buttigieg to use it when he was working for the CMU.

The level of proof reached by the prosecution, therefore, is insufficient for a criminal conviction, said the court, acquitting the accused of all charges both as holders of office and as individuals.

The court made an appeal to the authorities to ensure that Joseph Buttigieg received all the medical and financial assistance he required following the “unfortunate incident” which he had suffered whilst working under one of its employment schemes.

Lawyer Joe Giglio and Legal Procurator Peter Paul Zammit appeared for the accused.