To assess whether a punishment delivered by the law courts is just or not by reading a newspaper report isn’t very rational. The reason is that the judge would (or at least, should) have judged the case considering a number of variables that do not appear in a short report from a journalist.
What can be assessed quite accurately though is the trends in punishment delivery. And what these trends are showing is that Maltese laws are a complete mess.
For the sake of simplicity I will focus on two kinds of crime: Drug related (not including theft for drug money) and violence related (including sexual violence and rape).
On drugs, Malta’s laws are ridiculously harsh. While I don’t agree with the legalization of hard drugs since this might increase availability, one fact cannot be denied: No one is forced to buy drugs.
I’m not putting into doubt the devastating effect of drugs. I’ve lost close friends myself to them. I’ve seen families being ruined, and otherwise good, law abiding people committing serious crimes.
The point is, the war on drugs – the way we’re waging it – has failed, miserably. Law enforcement, while it should be there, shouldn’t be the main weapon against drugs. Drug addiction is a disease and should be treated as such – with prevention and treatment. On a positive note, we have excellent services in Malta, though I would like more resources pumped into them, rather than into keeping people behind bars.
Then, there is the main issue on the failure of drug laws enforcement. The problem is not that sentences are too soft, the problem is corruption. We are jailing, for unreasonably long periods of time people who are nothing more than couriers. That the kingpins are brought to justice is extremely rare, and when they do they are the ones who enjoy the best lawyers and exploit every legal loopholes that can save them from long periods of imprisonment, if any.
It’s an open secret that someone is protecting them. Corruption has invaded every institution of power in this country, yet no one wants to do anything about it. Like many other Maltese people, I know – sometimes beyond reasonable doubt – some things that are going on. But what can I do, without the hard evidence?
So, to hide all this dirt and appear to be doing something, we become too harsh with the couriers.
What about violence?
That, we treat with a velvet glove. Beat the shit out of your wife and you’ll get a suspended sentence. Worse still, in the case of domestic violence, some people are granted bail and are sent to live (believe it or not) in the same house with the victim, since it’s the matrimonial home. All this when the main reasons for not granting bail include the risk of tampering with evidence and intimidating the witness!
Non-domestic violence is also treated lightly. The message given from the law court seems to be “hurt whoever you want unless you kill him”. Otherwise it will be treated as a murder and that (at least) has to be taken seriously.
Sexual abuse and rape are also treated with caution, lest we punish the abusers too much. The sentences given to the priests convicted of abusing a number of children are shameful to say the least.
It this same week a foreigner was granted 14 years imprisonment for importing heroin. Another foreigner was jailed for 9 years for beating a man unconscious, raping him and leaving him tied up. (9 years prison isn’t a joke, but relatively speaking it is definitely too lenient).
If this is what we call justice, I’m curious to know what injustice looks like.