Harassment is punished more harshly than threats of violence, court notes

Protection orders are also being misapplied, Magistrate says.

A man from Fgura has pleaded guilty to harassing his girlfriend and causing her to fear violence would be used against her.

The 25-year-old, whose name is being withheld on the order of the court, admitted to the charges before Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech earlier today.

The magistrate drew the legislator’s attention to an inconsistency in the law on domestic violence, which was amended this year, with the court calling for both harassment and threats of violence to be treated in the same harsh manner.

When the Istanbul convention (The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence) was introduced into Maltese law, the sections of the law dealing with harassment were amended, but not those of causing others to fear violence.

Harassment was punished more harshly than causing others to fear violence, pointed out the court. The former carried up to two years imprisonment and a €10,000 fine, the latter up to six months in prison and a fine of €11,600.

The time had come for the punishment for the two crimes to be brought into line, said the magistrate.
Magistrate Frendo Dimech also highlighted another problem with regards the use of temporary protection orders, which were being resorted to in the wrong circumstances. "If a crime is committed, there is no need to resort to a temporary protection order, one should proceed to arraignment immediately and have the case heard with urgency." Protection orders issued in this manner last all throughout proceedings, added the magistrate.

Regular protection orders last until the case becomes a res judicata. The court praised Inspector Alfredo Mangion who had earlier that day arraigned a man urgently for precisely this reason.The court lamented that often the police burden duty magistrates with requests for temporary protection orders, when instead, domestic violence cases needed to be treated with urgency. Magistrate Frendo Dimech advocated arraigning persons accused with urgency instead of leaving such cases pending and simply requesting a temporary protection orders - which are only meant to be issued until the police decide whether a person is suspected of a crime. 

The misapplication of the law was causing additional and unwarranted burdens on duty magistrates, social workers and the police themselves, she said.

The man was released on bail until a presentencing report could be drawn up, against a deposit of €3,000 and a personal guarantee of €7,000, as well as being placed under a curfew.

Inspector Melvyn Camilleri prosecuted. Lawyers Alfred Abela and Keith Borg were defence counsel.

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