A former member of the Franciscan religious order facing four years in jail for having sexually abused a 13-year-old girl entrusted in his care has lost a human rights case he filed when he was not allowed to offer new evidence on appeal.
The man, who is now married with children, failed to convince a judge that a letter from his alleged victim, which he had found among papers at his mother’s house, was important evidence and that the law that precluded him from presenting it during the appeal was breaching his right to a fair trial.
Mr Justice Lawrence Mintoff, presiding over the First Hall of the Civil Court in its constitutional jurisdiction, ruled there was no justification to his argument that he suffered a serious breach of his rights because he was not allowed to present the letter as evidence.
He said there were different witnesses and other evidence that corroborated the victim’s version of events and which led the magistrate to find guilt and hand down the prison sentence.
The man had been a member of the Order of Capuchin Franciscan Friars in 2010 when the alleged offences took place. He had been in charge of altar boys and girls, the children attending doctrine classes and those who were older and attended the youth centre.
He told the court that, before being transferred to another convent, the alleged victim gave him a letter in which she thanked him for the work he had done with her and the other youths, mentioning that he was always present in her life and that he understood and heard her.
As a rule, new evidence is not allowed before a court of appeal
After changing convent, he decided to give up his religious life, found a job and started his own relationship and family.
More than seven years later, in May 2017, the police had pounced on him after receiving a report from the Church’s Safeguarding Commission, which acted on a report received from the girl who came forward with the abuse claims.
He was charged with sexually abusing the teenager, abusing his position of trust or authority, participating in sexual acts with the minor and using information and communication technology to propose meeting a minor with a view of committing offences of a sexual nature when he had been entrusted to take care of her, educate her and teach her.
In October 2020, the man was sentenced to four years in jail. He appealed the sentence, which is still pending.
He told the court that, although he knew of the existence of this letter, he could not locate it.
However, his mother came across a pile of papers, which included the letter, while she was clearing out her house.
He, therefore, asked the court permission to submit it as new evidence. He did not explain what he expected the letter to prove but said the letter painted a different picture to the one portrayed when the victim reported him to the police and then testified against him in court. He said the court should focus on ensuring that he is not the victim of a miscarriage of justice.
The attorney general said the law did not infringe the man’s rights to a fair hearing in criminal proceedings against him.
As a rule, new evidence is not allowed before a court of appeal.
Mr Justice Mintoff agreed with this stance, adding that the court’s refusal to allow him to present the letter was not breaching his right to a fair hearing, especially since the victim’s allegations was corroborated by other evidence.
The judge, therefore, threw out his request.
Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.Support Us