Stalking to be made specific criminal offence

Stalking to be made a criminal offence punishable by a maximum one-year jail term or a €10,000 fine, justice minister Owen Bonnici says

Stalking will become a crime punishable by jail
Stalking will become a crime punishable by jail

Justice minister Owen Bonnici today announced that stalking would be made a criminal offence punishable by a maximum one-year jail term or a €10,000 fine.

Currently, anyone accused of stalking is officially charged with harassment, however once the amendments come into force stalking will become a specific criminal offence.

Explaining that the victims of stalking, predominantly female, are terrorised, Bonnici said “it's high time that penalties for such offenses become harsher.”

Underlining that “bullies and cowboys” will no longer be tolerated, Bonnci said that government will treat such crimes “with an iron fist.”

Bonnici was addressing Parliament on a bill proposing amendments to the criminal laws, which he said would include a series of changes aimed at “improving the justice system in qualitative and quantitative terms.”

Noting that government had already introduced a number of measures to improve the judiciary system he acknowledged that the situation at court “is still far from ideal.”

Yet government “has laid solid foundations” Bonnici said, adding that the new measures proposed in the amendments tabled today would improve the situation further.

Among the amendments, Bonnici highlighted the proposed changes to the conduct certificates, an IT system to avoid unnecessary waste of time when court cases are postponed and a provision that would allow court to proceed with minor criminal cases in absentia of accused parties, who will however have the right to appeal.

He added that with the completion of a new court building in Strait Street in Valletta, efficiency will increase since the number of court rooms and members of the judiciary will increase.

High expectations

In reaction, Opposition MP Beppe Fenech Adami said that while the PN was in agreement over most of the amendments being proposed, however he warned Bonnici against “raising expectations.”

He added that despite the number of positive measures introduced over the past year to cut waiting times at court, Fenech Adami noted that “in truth, despite all good intentions, we have not yet addressed the delays in the justice system.”

Fenech Adami, a practicing lawyer himself, sounded a pessimisticc note on the uphill struggle government is facing in reforming the justice system, which according to a EU Justice Scoreboard report published last year has the longest delays within all EU member states.

While underlining the opposition’s readiness to cooperate with government in reforming the system, Fenech Adami said that government needed to be firmer with the judiciary which he said “is untouchable.”

Not only do members of the judiciary fail to be punctual, Fenech Adami added, but in clear reference to judge Lino Farrugia Sacco he said a particular member of the judiciary had breached the code of ethics without facing the consequences despite government’s “tough talk.”

Moreover, he said that a judge had got away with organising a party in court and arresting a reporter who witnessed the party.

At this point, Bonnici made a point of order to clarify that he did not have the power to impose discipline on members of the judiciary. In reply, the opposition MP said that he did not expect the minister to impose discipline but members of the judiciary should not get away scot-free over blatant cases of abuse.