The Malta Independent 12 May 2021, Wednesday

TMID Editorial: Justice – Truth and legal proof are not the same thing

Wednesday, 14 April 2021, 08:09 Last update: about 27 days ago

The arrest and arraignment of Keith Schembri and associates on 20 March was the culmination of years of investigations which included magisterial inquiries as well as delicate police work.

The former OPM chief of staff and others were charged with a string of offences which included money laundering, corruption, fraud and giving false testimony. Compilations of evidence have started in the magistrates’ court. All the accused persons have pleaded not guilty and have been granted bail after spending around two weeks behind bars.

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The arraignments were only the end of one chapter in this long saga, and the beginning of a long process which is to establish whether the people involved are guilty or innocent of the charges as submitted by the prosecution.

It is now up to the prosecution to prove the charges which have been tabled. As we all know, the law always is on the side of the accused, as any doubt on the veracity of the accusations will be in their favour.

It is likely that the course of justice will take years and one cannot put aside the human element in the procedures. What may convince one jury may not convince another, and we have seen it happen that magistrates and judges have given different judgements on what are seen to be similar cases.

We have already begun to hear more details about what happened. Some of these details had already filtered through to the media, but seeing them reported in newspapers and hearing people testifying about them, under oath, in a court of law, takes on a different dimension.

Other information is expected to emerge as we move along, with the prosecution submitting more and more evidence while the defence aims to poke holes in the prosecution’s work in a bid to create enough doubt.

Not being found guilty is not the same as being innocent. It would only mean that the prosecution did not manage to convince the courts, and juries, that no doubts exist on the guilt of the people charged. Whatever the outcome of these (and all other) cases, the reputation of the people who have been charged will always remain tarnished.

But establishing legal proof or failing to do so is by no means the determination of the truth. They are two completely different things. While the prosecution will aim to get as close to what exactly took place and how the accused broke the law, the defence will try to create as much distance as possible between their clients and the charges they face.

This could change if there is a confession. Yet, even here, one will have to see whether the one spilling the beans is saying the whole truth, or just trying to save his or her skin. It will always be a question of my word against yours and, with the situation being so garbled, it is unlikely that any of the accused will confess.

The call for justice is comprehensible in many ways. But, like in most other cases, the truth may never be known.

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