Monday, November 28, 2011, 15:00
Updated - adds details -
The courts will be able to order people to perform community work, along with their suspended sentence, according to a Bill which was given a first reading by Parliament today.
The Bill, which provides for wide-ranging reforms, is being piloted by Home Affairs Minister Carm Mifsud Bonnici.
To date, people who were condemned to suspended sentences were seen in the people’s minds to be getting away scot free, unless they re-offended.
But the new law will provide that while on suspended sentence, offenders may also be ordered by the courts to perform community service. They will still be sent to prison if they re-offend.
The new law also provides that a sentence may be suspended for up to six years.
The new law will also provide that:
In cases of a sexual nature, where a minor aged between 16 and 18 would have, in the eyes of the court, consented to sex, the court may order that charges of corruption of a minor be dropped. In such cases there must not be a wide difference between the age of the persons concerned;
The minimum age of criminal responsibility is to be raised to 14 years from the current nine years, in line with the law in most European countries. In cases where the accused is between 14 and 16 years old, malicious intent has to be proved.
A person convicted of a crime abroad will be considered as a repeat offender if arraigned in Malta;
Penalties will be increased for crimes attacking the democratic system (as happened recently in Norway). At present the maximum penalty is €230.94 or six months imprisonment. That will be raised to a fine of up to €5,000 and up to five years imprisonment;
Penalties will be increased when crimes, such as assault, are motivated by reasons of homophobia (as in the case of racism);
HARSHER PENALTIES FOR ASSAULTING POLICEMEN
There will be harsher sentences for those convicted of assaulting policemen or other public officers. In such cases the penalty will rise by between one and two grades. No probation or suspended sentence may be handed down.
There will be harsher penalties for corruption or abuse by public officers and people who encourage public officers to commit a crime. The penalty for trading in influence will double to up to three years in prison.
There will also be harsher penalties on those convicted of vandalism in cemeteries and monuments. In the case of the former, the current prison term of up to 18 months is to be raised to a maximum of two years and the maximum fine will rise to €5,000 from the current €1,164.
Anyone who promotes, organises or funds organisations to commit a crime will be subject to at least a minimum prison term of four years (instead of the current three-to seven years).
In cases of theft where violence is used – including hold-ups – an effective prison term will become mandatory;
Anyone convicted of organ harvesting will be liable of a prison term of up to 12 years.
There will be higher penalties for fraud, human trafficking and funding of terrorism. People convicted of encouraging under-age prostitution will be liable to a prison term of up to seven years, instead of five years as at present. Internet soliciting of sex will carry a maximum prison term of five years instead of the current four years. Promoting sex tourism incurs a penalty of up to five years instead of the current maximum of two years. In all these cases, probation cannot be given by the courts. Organised human trafficking by organisation can carry a fine of between €10,000 and €2 million.
Crimes against the environment are being brought in line with EU directives. Such crimes include unlawful harmful emissions, illegal waste disposal, unlawful storage, production and transport of dangerous substances, illegal actions against flora and fauna, trade in protected species and harm to protected habitats.
The Chief Justice is being formally empowered to assign judges and magistrates for particular duties, including serving exclusively as an inquiring magistrate;
The Minister of Justice is being empowered to set up a specialised Drugs Court;
In the case of first time arraignments for a small amount of drug possession and use (not trafficking) the Attorney General may decide that rather than taking the person to court, he will receive specialised help to kick the habit and warned not to re-offend. In such cases, the persons involved must not have a criminal record;
The drug Khat is being declared illegal;
In repeated cases of prostitution, premises may be seized by the authorities; People acting as lookout in prostitution cases will also be considered as committing a crime.
The Police Association is being granted recognition as a trade union to negotiate policemen’s working conditions, but it may not order industrial action;
In the renewal of fireworks factory licences, the Commissioner of Police is being granted the authority to change licence conditions including conditions of storage. The commissioner may withdraw the fireworks licence of persons convicted of crime. People not holding a licence will not be allowed into fireworks factories.
The new law will formally introduce the possibility of plea bargaining in the courts, and such plea bargaining can take place in all stages of the court process.
The full details of the Bill are expected to be published later this week.
FRANCO DEBONO REACTS
Nationalist MP Franco Debono, who last month presented a private member's motion on reform in this sector, said the reforms announced by the minister were long overdue.
"These amendments clearly show that my repeated and persistent calls for reforms in the justice sector were justified all along. Some issues are those in my private member's motion and others I have spoken about for a number of times in parliament and outside.
"It shows that there is energy and good ideas and vision in the backbench. I think some of these reforms are long overdue," Dr Debono said.
He added that some other proposals need to be analysed in detail, and further reforms are needed in other areas.
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