I write on behalf of Yanica Barbara and Thomas Sant and refer to two articles, ‘Judges clear law students with criminal records’ (March 6) and ‘Chief Justice denies claim after being slammed by Labour MEP’ (March 8).
The first article states that the “case dates back to 2010, when they were found guilty and given suspended sentences for theft and document falsification” which according to your reporter “barred them from becoming lawyers”. The same allegation is repeated in the second piece: “The two had been found guilty and given suspended sentences for document theft and falsification.”
One would have expected your reporters to conduct basic fact-finding before attributing facts which are absolutely erroneous to my clients, since the judgements unequivocally confirm that they had been conditionally discharged by the Court of Magistrates. No suspended sentence has ever been meted against my clients.
I shall not comment on the import of the term “conditional discharge” but will refer to the word of the law.
The judgments delivered and the conditional discharge they were awarded eight years ago – are of no consequence to their application for admission to the Bar
In terms of Art. 22 of the Probation Act (Cap. 446): “Where a court by which a person is convicted of an offence (not being an offence punishable only be a fine (multa or ammenda) and not being an offence which apart from an increase of punishment in view of continuity or previous convictions, is punishable with imprisonment for a term exceeding seven years) is of opinion that, having regard to the circumstances of the case, including the nature of the offence and the character of the offender, it is inexpedient to inflict punishment and that a probation order, a community service order or a combination order are not appropriate, the court may make an order discharging the offender absolutely, or, if the court thinks fit, discharging the offender subject to the condition that he commits no offence during such period, not exceeding three years from the date of the order, as may be specified therein.”
In terms of Art. 5(d) of the Conduct Certificates Ordinance (Cap. 77): “No conviction or order against any person shall be entered in a conduct certificate issued under this Ordinance if it is made under the provisions of the Probation Act.”
However, what is particularly relevant in this case is Art. 25(2) of Cap. 446 which provides in no uncertain terms that “without prejudice to the foregoing provisions of this article [which relate to public officers or subsequent proceedings and therefore do not apply to my clients], the conviction of an offender who is placed on probation, on a community service order, on a combination order or discharged absolutely or conditionally as aforesaid shall in any event be disregarded for the purposes of any enactment which imposes or authorises any interdiction, disqualification, disability or other penalty upon convicted persons.”
Therefore, the judgments delivered with reference to my clients – and the conditional discharge they were awarded eight years ago – are of no consequence to their application for admission to the Bar of Malta and your erroneous reporting – stating that a suspended imprisonment sentence had been meted to my clients – is totally uncalled for and indeed unfair and prejudicial.
John Bonello is a lawyer, Scerri & Bonello Advocates.