Sunday, October 14, 2012 by Claire Bonello
Most people agree with the saying that ‘the law is an ass’. Every now and again we come across a judgment which proves that this is indeed the case. In this vein we have the judgment given by Magistrate Carol Peralta in what has become known as ‘The Mellieħa Jibe Case’ or alternatively ‘The Gay Jibe Case’.
Described in that manner it sounds like some cosy mystery story by Enid Blyton on the lines of The Mystery of the Disappearing Cat or The Mystery of the Missing Necklace. In reality it’s a case where a man deliberately drove into another, causing grievous injuries and permanent damage and got away with the equivalent of a pat on the back.
In the circumstances, you’d have thought that punishment would be swift and severe. Instead, Magistrate Peralta concluded that a conditional discharge (not even a slap on the wrist, more of a little tickle) would be an appropriate punishment in the circumstances, as the attack had been provoked. But there was more from the bench about the nature of the provocation.
“The accused lives in Mellieħa and that’s why, in his mind, he felt he had a reputation to defend in Mellieħa,” the magistrate noted, “so, although, in itself, there was nothing wrong in what was said, given that the insinuation that the accused could be gay was made in Mellieħa, in front of other residents, it is possible that for the accused and other Mellieħa citizens, this was unacceptable,” the magistrate noted.
Jaws across the country fell open when the report on the judgment was published. In one full swoop the court had branded the residents of Mellieħa as a community of homophobic backwood bunnies and apparently justified physical violence as a form of retaliation to verbal insults.
The latter is the most worrying aspect of the judgment as it implies that any form of provocation – real or perceived – is enough to warrant a reduction in sentence for the accused.
The law does provide for a lighter punishment if the attack is provoked, but I’m sure legislators would not consider the uttering of the word ‘pufta’ accompanied by obscene gestures as a ‘Get Out Of Jail Free’ card for someone who used his car to practically cripple someone else. Even more so when the attack was not an immediate and instinctive reaction to the ‘provocation’ but one which occurred sometime later, when the accused was driving home, presumably after having had some time to calm down after the slight to his fragile ego.
If this judgment is not overturned on appeal, we will have a potentially worrying legal precedent of the judicial sanctioning of violent thugs exploiting the provocation defence by claiming that they have been insulted, mocked or spurned.
As it is we have a situation where the forces of law and order run themselves ragged trying to chuck authors in jail for writing rude stories and where thugs are free to run people down to protect their reputation.
[The next section of the article deals with a different subject. The complete article can be found on the Times website.]