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Strip clubs are here to stay: court ruling follows debate stirred by PL deputy leader Toni Abela

Neil Camilleri Friday, 3 October 2014, 06:55 Last update: about 11 years ago

A judge yesterday threw out three appeals cases filed by the Attorney General's office on the acquittal of three men and a woman who had been accused of running two brothels in 2006. The decision came only a day after PL Deputy Leader Toni Abela said Malta should consider whether the time has come to regulate brothels, in view that prostitution "will never be eradicated". The Attorney General's office had filed appeals after Sabrina Bonett, Duncan Fenech, Daniel Schembri and Donald Camilleri were acquitted in 2011 and 2012 of running brothels, which were actually 'Gentleman's Clubs'.

The raids on the AO Platinum and Secrets clubs, both situated in Paceville, were carried out in November 2006.

In the first case, Sabrina Bonett had been found wearing just underwear and a short skirt inside the dressing room of the club, which was not accessible to the public. She had been charged with committing immoral acts, operating a brothel, offending public morals and being indecently dressed in a public area. The woman was acquitted of all charges in 2011.

Later on in the same month, the AG's office had filed an appeal and asked the court to overturn the sentence and find the woman guilty. It had claimed that the court had applied the law incorrectly and that prostitution does not necessarily need to include full sexual intercourse. The Attorney General had argued that lap dancing is a simulation of sexual activity, which is considered to be a lewd act and, according to the law, lap dancing constitutes prostitution. As such, the building where lap dancing is held is considered a brothel. But Mr Justice Michael Mallia upheld the first court sentence, which had noted that there was not enough proof on the first two charges and that the woman had not been found in a public area. The appeal was rejected.

The second appeal was related to the acquittal of two men - Duncan Fenech and Daniel Schembri - who had also been arraigned after the AO Platinum Club raid. The men had been acquitted of the charges of operating a brothel or allowing immoral acts in their bar but were found guilty of employing foreigners illegally and were fined €2,500 each. But the court yesterday upheld an appeal filed by the two men and acquitted them of the latter charge because of a lack of proof and, on the other hand, rejected the AG's appeal. The third appeal to be thrown out was related to the 2012 acquittal of Donald Camilleri, who had been arraigned following a police raid at the Secrets club in Paceville.

Police officers had found four foreigners, dressed only in underwear, dancing and talking to patrons. Mr Camilleri had identified himself as the person responsible for the establishment. He was subsequently charged with running a brothel and permitting the use of an establishment for prostitution purposes. The man was acquitted in 2012 after the court threw out his initial police statement, which was given in the absence of a lawyer.

In its appeal, the AG's office argued that a statement given in the absence of a lawyer still amounted to evidence.

What is prostitution?

The prosecution also made the same arguments that lap dancing is considered by law as prostitution.

The court, however, noted that this was a place where the patrons were adults and went there at their own free will and there was no evidence that the women were forced to work there. The judge said the public conception about what is immoral and what is not, is subjective and has changed over the years. Society no longer frowns upon such things.

The court referred to an earlier sentence, when another court had stated that "when such acts are performed by consenting adults and in cases where there is no exploitation or abuse then such acts should not be illegal." Since the court could not rule that the girls were prostituting themselves, it could not find the accused guilty of running a brothel. The third appeal was also rejected.

Lawyer Joe Giglio appeared for the defendants in all three cases.

PL deputy leader asks whether it's time to regulate brothels

On Tuesday, PL Deputy Leader Toni Abela said on One Radio that Malta should consider whether the time has come to regulate brothels. Referring to the arraignment of nine women accused of loitering for the purposes of prostitution, Dr Abela said that this was the oldest profession and will never be eradicated. “We should therefore consider whether now is the time for this to be regulated,” he said. “It is better than having them treated badly while being exploited by their pimps. Regulation would also be beneficial for health reasons,” he said.



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