Man given conditional discharge after argument over pet rabbit spirals out of control

Court finds accused guilty of illegally detaining his sister after an argument over a pet rabbit got out of hand

A family argument over a rabbit has earned a man a conditional discharge, after he was found guilty of illegally detaining his sister against her will, albeit momentarily.

The 41-year-old accused had been arraigned in January 2018, after a fight broke out in January 2018 at the family’s farm in San Gwann.

He was charged with illegal arrest, grievous bodily harm, causing fear of violence and insulting the woman.

The victim had been complaining to her father because a rabbit she had been taking care of had been taken by her nephew without her being informed.

She had used some coarse language directed at her brother, who had thrown a pot of water in her direction but missed. He then grabbed her from behind and threw her into the field, kicking and pushing her head into the soil and throwing various objects in her direction, claimed the woman.

At one point, she said, she had smashed a glass bottle to use as a weapon but thought better of it and discarded the broken bottle, going instead to face her brother and reason with him. But he had then locked her in a stable, said the woman. She had started banging on objects but then noticed that she had a deep cut on her hand and a lot of blood.

The court heard the woman’s father explain that his son had told him that he had locked the woman in the stables because she had attacked him with a bottle. He had only seen blood after she was let out of the horse enclosure. The accused had told the police that he had locked her in the stables to let her cool off and avoid further escalation.

The accused had also testified, telling magistrate Joe Mifsud how he after the pushing incident with his sister, in which she had also bitten him, he had heard glass breaking and turned to see her coming at him with a broken bottle telling him “let’s see how gutsy you are now,” before discarding the glass weapon.

It also heard that the woman had suffered deep lacerations to her hand, as a result of which she had been certified as having sustained a 3% disability. A surgeon said the L-shaped scar on her wrist was likely to have been caused by broken glass, a knife, or broken pottery and would be permanent.

Dispensing with his famously colourful and left-field approach, Magistrate Mifsud’s sober and scholarly examination of the charges and the various legal doctrines and case law affecting marks an interesting change in his judgments.

He noted that despite it emerging that the woman had not been detained for more than a few moments, this did not exclude the crime of illegal arrest, a fact established by the Court of Appeal.

But the court also said that it was not convinced that the woman’s injuries had been caused by the accused. On the charge of grievous injury, the magistrate noted that the doctor who treated her injuries the next day had been told by the woman that they were caused by chicken wire. This detail was absent from the woman’s testimony.

The fact that the accused had never been indicated as carrying a sharp or cutting instrument and that the woman had broken a bottle and was carrying a knife at the time created “serious doubt as to how much these injuries could be attributed to the accused.”

The court also noted that the injuries had occurred whilst the woman was in the stable, as none of the eyewitnesses had seen any blood before she was let out and there was no fisticuffs afterwards.

On the charge of causing fear of violence, the court said that the course of conduct required by law was absent.

The fourth charge – of insulting the woman, was no longer a crime, noted the court.

The magistrate condemned the use of violence in family contexts, saying that the family should be a safe space for the individual to share his life. “Every form of violence in the family is always wrong and can never be justified, irrespective of the circumstances which led to the violence.”

The court said that it had to decide cases only on the evidence, unlike those who comment on decisions without experiencing the trial, “who often only have a summary of the case published in the media, who often have a problem reporting sentences with legal arguments in the limited space they have.”

Finding him guilty only of the first charge, the court conditionally discharged the man for one year.

It invited the two parties to sort out their differences with the assistance of professionals.

Lawyers Franco Debono and Marion Camilleri were defence counsel for the accused.

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