Defence counsel for two priests who have appealed against child abuse convictions, argued in court today that the court had been selective in its appreciation of the evidence presented in the case.

Godwin Scerri and Charles Pulis, both members of the Missionary Society of St Paul, were sentenced to five and six years in prison respectively for sexually abusing 11 young boys in their care.

Their appeal started being heard last Friday.

Picking up where Dr Giannella de Marco left off last week, Dr Joe Giglio  said there were several discrepancies in the evidence of two victims and he therefore wondered how the magistrate had arrived at the moral certainty required for a conviction. 

For example, while one of the alleged victims had claimed that Godwin Scerri was one of the priests who looked after them at St Joseph Home,  the evidence showed that Fr Scerri was never actually involved in looking after the children.

The magistrate had based his conviction of corruption of minors on a couple of sentences said by the witnesses on the witness stand while ignoring the totality of evidence, Dr Giglio said.  

In another discrepancy, it had been shown that  Fr Scerri was not even in Malta at the time when abuse was claimed by one of the victims. That his passport showed two departure stamps from Malta did not mean he was in Malta at the time of the alleged abuse (in between those dates), since he was in other countries at the time. 

Another witness had said that he told a social worker at the home that he was being physically beaten and when he tried to speak to her about sexual abuse she cut him short.  Yet, Dr Giglio observed, this same social worker in court categorically denied that the boy had spoken to her about any abuse, whether beating or sexual, and he had actually told her he was happy and well cared for by the priests.

Dr Giglio said one felt hurt and disappointed when he saw this type of selective appreciation of evidence but this should have led to an acquittal, not a conviction. 

Dr Philip Galea Farrugia from the Attorney General's office, said the defence, last Friday in particular, had launched a  ferocious attack on abuse victim  Lawrence Grech.

He said there were very small discrepancies in the evidence of the witnesses  and that was expected 18 years after the event. Yet they all agreed on the substance of their evidence, which was about how the abuse had taken place.

It was not true that the witnesses had been coached by Grech, because had that been the case, they would have come up with the same story.

He said that even the language in the appeal document had been strong, almost amounting to contempt of the first court about selective appreciation of evidence, with the court having almost been accused of bowing to public opinion.

Dr Gianella de Marco  strongly denied that the defence had implied this and had she only used sarcasm and tongue in cheek to stress her point

Continuing, Dr Galea Farrugia said that in a 2003 case, the witness had testified differently in court to what he had told a Church tribunal for the simple reason that after his evidence before the tribunal, he was required to go back to the same place and face the same people he was making the allegations against.

Concluding, he said that everyone made mistakes but everyone who made a mistake had to account for them, as so, too, did the priests.

At the end of the sitting the court agreed that Lou Bond, a former adviser to the victims, would be allowed to testify, but only to confirm what he had written in a blog - where he was harshly critical of victims' spokesman Lawrence Grech.

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