Criminal law

Criminal Law is mainly governed by chapter 9 of the Laws of Malta. The promulgation of criminal law is important for the keeping of good order and peace in a country. In fact, the law is mainly concerned with punishments, deterrence and with the prohibition of offences. Yet, what is considered as illegal might not also have to be immoral. Also, what might be considered as immoral might not be illegal under the criminal laws of a country. This shows that the ethical behaviour of a person has nothing to do with what the criminal law shall consist of.

The criminal law courts in Malta can be split up into three main categories:

1.    the Court of Magistrates
2.    the Criminal Court
3.    the Court of Criminal Appeal

There is one court of Magistrates in Malta and another one in Gozo. The court of Magistrates can act either as a court of criminal judicature or as a court of criminal inquiry. The court of Magistrates can thus hold two different positions, each position having different responsibilities.

The Court of Magistrates as a Court of Criminal Judicature is the main function of the court of Magistrates. A Magistrate is in such cases competent to try any contraventions and any crime whose punishment will not exceed six months imprisonment. Nevertheless, there may be situations where the accused is tried in front of the court of magistrates as a court of criminal judicature for crimes that carry punishments of up to ten years imprisonment. Yet, certain procedures that are laid down by the law have to be abided by in these circumstances.

The majority of offences exceed the six month imprisonment, in which case, the court of Magistrates will have to do an inquiry. It will thus be called the court of Magistrates as a court of criminal inquiry.

The Criminal Court has competence to try offences which carry an imprisonment of more than six months. However, it is quite common that the accused is tried in front of the Court of Magistrates as a Court of Criminal Judicature for crimes that carry a punishment of up to ten years. The reason for this is because the court can try offences with a jury. The Attorney General will firstly file the Bill of Indictment before the Criminal Court. The Bill of Indictment contains all the evidence compiled by the Court of Magistrates as a Court of Criminal Inquiry and all the charges brought against the accused. In such cases, a judge sits with a jury composed of nine persons and the accused has to be heard by the panel. The panel will in the end decide if they find the accused guilty or innocent and not the judge. The judge has to then abide by the jury’s verdict when giving the accused the punishment accordingly. Nevertheless, the accused or the attorney general cannot file an appeal from the decision of the jury. This means that if the person is acquitted, then the Attorney General has to abide by such decision. However, if the accused is found guilty of committing the crime that he is accused of, he will not have a right to lodge an appeal from such decision.

The court of criminal appeal hears and decides on appeals of the court of magistrates as a court of criminal judicature. The appeal has to be filed within eight working days. Three judges sit in the court of criminal appeal.

In our judicial system we also have the Juvenile Court which hears cases with regards to an offence or crime committed by minors who are under sixteen years of age.

The Maltese Law also provides for a whole list of prescription periods whereby different crimes are time barred. This means that once an a period be it or years or months depending on the crime, has elapsed then the person accused can never be tried for that offence before the Criminal Courts in Malta since the offence will be time barred.

Sultana Legal has a team of lawyers to assist clients throughout their criminal proceedings. Sultana Legal will ensure the best defence team for its clients while protecting its clients’ fundamental human rights and the rights of the accused.