Appeals court clears man of lending car to unlicensed driver

The Court of Appeal ruled that it hadn't been shown that the car's owner had given permission to he unlicensed driver to operate the car

The Court of Criminal Appeal has overturned a man’s conviction for allowing his car to be driven by a cousin who was unlicensed and uninsured, ruling that the prosecution had not shown that he had permitted the driver to operate the vehicle.

Aiman Farag El-Lawati had been accused of allowing a van to be driven by his cousin without a valid driving licence or insurance cover in January this year. The Court of Magistrates had found him guilty and fined him €2,500.

El-Lawati’s lawyer Jason Grima had appealed on the grounds that the articles under which he was being found guilty were not specified, that he was being found guilty of an inexistent offence and that there was a lack of a connection between the appellant and the fact that his cousin, Abdulsallam Abdalla was driving the car.

Grima had described as “worrying” the fact that the court of magistrates had expected the appellant to tell it how the vehicle was in the other man’s possession. “It is a gratuitous assumption by the Court of Magistrates that the appellant permitted Abdulsallam Abdalla to drive it. This doesn’t emerge from the evidence.”

In this course of several hearings, it was proven that his cousin had been driving with valid insurance cover but an inadequate licence. “How this vehicle came to be in his control does not emerge from anywhere unless one makes an assumption, as the first court did,” argued Grima, adding that just because a person is responsible for a vehicle does not mean that if it is being driven by a third party, the person is aware. “The criminal intent must be proven too, not taken as obvious.”

Abdulsallam Abdalla was never summoned to testify and therefore the reports of wardens on the scene were hearsay evidence and inadmissible, submitted the defence.

In a brief judgment on the matter, Judge Consuelo Scerri Herrera dismissed the notion that that the prosecution not obliged to reproduce the law word for word or even provide the article of the law under which the person is being charged, explaining that the charge is just a notice to appear which informs the accused the nature of what he is being accused of. 

In this case the prosecution had to prove that it was the appellant who authorised Abdalla to drive his car when he knew that he was not licensed or covered by insurance, said the court.

It was not necessary for him to prove how his car ended up in his cousin’s hands, but it was up to the prosecution to show that he had given it to him to drive. The fact that Abdala was inside the vehicle doesn’t automatically mean that he had permission from El-Lawati, said the court. “There is no shifting of the onus of proof.”

The court said that it was up to the prosecution to bring evidence showing that the appellant had authorised the driving and that the driver was uninsured. “Certainly in this case, this evidence is missing,” ruled the judge overturning the sentence and clearing the man of all wrongdoing.

Lawyer Jason Grima was defence counsel.

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