Lifeline files court appeal against €10,000 fine

The MV Lifeline was caught in an international dispute last year when it rescued 234 migrants at sea

In May this year, Captain Claus Peter Reisch had been found guilty of not having his ship’s registration in order and was fined €10,000, with the court refusing the prosecution’s request to confiscate the vessel
In May this year, Captain Claus Peter Reisch had been found guilty of not having his ship’s registration in order and was fined €10,000, with the court refusing the prosecution’s request to confiscate the vessel

Madam Justice Consuelo Scerri Herrera has begun hearing an appeal filed by the captain of humanitarian rescue vessel MV Lifeline, who is fighting a conviction for ship registration irregularities for which he had been fined €10,000.

In May this year, Captain Claus Peter Reisch had been found guilty of not having his ship’s registration in order and was fined €10,000, with the court refusing the prosecution’s request to confiscate the vessel.

Magistrate Joe Mifsud, who delivered the sentence, had pointed out that although the charges were punishable with imprisonment for up to 12 months, he had not contemplated imposing this punishment in this case.

Reisch had been in charge of the vessel when it rescued 234 stranded migrants at sea in 2018. The rescue had caused an international dispute, with the Lifeline eventually being allowed to dock in Valletta, after which the rescued migrants were distributed amongst a number of EU countries.

Reisch had been charged with entering Maltese territorial waters without the necessary registration or licence.

Reisch’s lawyers,  Cedric Mifsud and Neil Falzon had appealed the fine on a number of grounds, arguing that the ship had been correctly registered under the Dutch flag and its ownership was indicated in that register.

The lawyers submitted that the first court had “completely discarded” the testimony of Axel Steier, the representative of Mission Lifeline, which operated the vessel. Steier had testified as to how the vessel had been acquired from Sea Watch e. V. and how, upon the transfer, it had been explained that the only change to the ship had been its name and owner. At no point had he misled or given false information to the Dutch authorities.

The court had heard how the vessel’s MMSI number – a licence number allocated to the radio, although in itself, not a flag state recognition, could not be seen in isolation.

The appeal was scheduled to be heard by Madam Justice Scerri Herrera on Tuesday morning, but when the case was called the Attorney General raised a preliminary objection about the three-page statement of facts drawn up by Reisch’s lawyers, saying that this was too long and was not restricted to facts, but contained several allegations.

Lawyers Cedric Mifsud, Neil Falzon and Gianluca Cappitta replied that although the law stipulated that facts were to be stated concisely, this case was required context and a clear exposition of the facts at hand.

At just three pages, the statement of facts was not too long, argued the lawyers, clarifying that they had made no allegations but had simply limited themselves to facts which were not being contested.

The judge put the case off to next month for a decision on the preliminary issues.

Outside the courtroom, an angry Reisch complained to his lawyers, upset at the fact that he had travelled to Malta for what was effectively a 3 minute hearing, due to the Attorney General's preliminary objection. 

This is the 10th time Rausch has had to fly in to attend this case and it isnt the first time that he had to fly in for some formality with the sitting lasting just a few minutes. This was his case's first sitting in front of Madame Justice Scerri Herrera.

Judgment on the plea raised today must be given in Reisch's presence and could mean that the next sitting will only be for pronouncement of judgement or that it would be deferred to another date for oral submissions.

 

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