The Malta Independent 25 May 2020, Monday

State found guilty

Claudette Buttigieg Thursday, 9 April 2020, 07:24 Last update: about 3 months ago

When the Constitutional Court finds the State guilty, as it did late last month, we the citizens should sit up and take notice. Courts find States guilty when they’ve broken an individual’s rights. If one individual’s rights can be broken, so can your rights and those of your family.

Which brings us to the sentence of 27 March. The Constitutional Court found that the State failed in its duty to protect the fundamental rights of a woman who was a victim of domestic violence.

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The court found that there were systemic shortcomings in police procedures, particularly in the investigation of the reports and complaints filed by the victim. These shortcomings directly caused the victim to suffer “psychological traumas of a certain severity, not only because of her husband’s behaviour, but also because her husband continued to act with impunity despite the orders issued against him.”

The court also found that the police did not have a centralised system of flagging protection orders issued in favour of the victims. Although the police have a victim’s support unit, and a dedicated squad to deal with cases of domestic violence, the evidence presented to the court clearly showed that “the system has failed and has failed tremendously.”

This is a landmark sentence for all victims of domestic violence. They now have the law’s backing to insist on a revision of how the system works.

We know it will not happen automatically. The Constitutional Court was confirming a previous sentence, which Judge Lorraine Schembri Orland gave in July last year on the same case. Judge Schembri Orland found the police guilty of “lack of immediate and effective action”. After highlighting the sections of the law which oblige the Police to act swiftly and effectively, the judge also urged the Police Commissioner to take note of the deficiencies so that they will not repeat themselves.

The time for procrastination is over. The system failings go beyond the police. The government’s attention has long been drawn to various aspects of the problem.

In parliament I spoke numerous times of how the system is failing the victims of domestic violence. When Owen Bonnici was responsible for Justice, I repeatedly brought to his attention the strong need to amend laws which are not catering for the needs of the victims.

Now this landmark sentence has put the matter on the front burner. We cannot wait any longer. We must take immediate action.

Minister Edward Zammit Lewis and Parliamentary Secretary Rosianne Cutajar must get their legal teams to examine the laws, particularly, but not only, those amended recently. They need a thorough overhaul. These laws are failing the victims they are meant to protect.

The Minister for Internal Affairs, Byron Camilleri, must also take note and see to it that the Police live up to their obligations. Too many times, the Opposition has been ignored on this.

Worse still, too many times it has been the experts and, even more so, the victims, who have been ignored. Let’s have immediate action.

 

Let the lady do her job

As I am writing this, the Minister of Health, Chris Fearne, and the Superintendent of Public Health, Charmaine Gauci, announced a spike of fifty-two new cases of Covid-19 in Malta. Exactly one month since Malta had its first case, and (ironically) on World Health Day, the curve is getting sharper. As expected.

The message is clearer than ever before. Each and every one of us is responsible. If we stay home, we will help control the sharp rise in the number of cases. We will help flatten the curve, avoiding a flood of hospital cases that could overwhelm our health services. A large surge of cases would put the effectiveness of our health system seriously at risk. It could be left unable to treat each infected patient.

I suggest we all listen to the health authorities on this matter. We cannot afford to get this wrong. Look at what is happening in other countries. We can learn from the success of some and the failure of others.

Of course, it would really help if we received one clear message on this. Every time the Prime Minister utters anything on this matter, he is only creating confusion.

Honestly, can’t we let the lady do her job? The Superintendent of Public Health, through parliament, has been given all the powers to take decisions and implement them as she (and her team) deem fit. She is clearly following the WHO guidelines, which are still insisting  on social distancing. The most effective way to practice social distancing — the most responsible towards our families, others, and not least our overstretched health workers — is by staying home as much as possible.

Seeing the Prime Minister smiling for a photo opportunity with the soldiers on duty outside the Hal Far Open Centre, now under lockdown, made my blood boil.

This is not the behaviour we expect of our leaders. This is no time for photo opportunities or mixed messages.

Please just do your utmost to #StayAtHome.

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