A judgement is null if it is not clear whether the court has found a person guilty or not of a crime. This was held in Il-Pulizija -v- Antonio Vella. The judgment was delivered by the Court of Criminal Appeal presided over by Mr Justice Neville Camilleri on 20 June 2023.
Antonio Vella was accused with five charges in connection to animal cruelty taking place around February 2019. The Court found the accused not guilty of the first charge but found him guilty of the other four charges. He was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment, suspended for four years. In addition, he was awarded a fine of €20,000 and prohibited from breeding and handling dogs.
Vella presented an appeal asking the court to revoke the judgement delivered by the Magistrates Court.
The Court of Criminal Appeal went straight to deal with the first ground of appeal in that the judgment should be declared null and void since it is not in conformity with Article 382 of the Criminal Code. Article 382 reads: “382. The court, in delivering judgement against the accused, shall state the facts of which he has been found guilty, shall award punishment and shall quote the article of this Code or of any other law creating the offence.”
The Court analysed the judgement delivered by the Magistrates’ Court, where at first the accused was found not guilty of the first charge, but found guilty of the second, third and fourth charges. Later on, the Court held that the prosecution proved its case and therefore, Vella is guilty of all the charges. When the Court moved to award the punishment, the court repeated that the accused was guilty of all the charges including the first charge.
The Court of Criminal Appeal commented that it was not clear which charges the accused was guilty of. The Court quoted from Il-Pulizija -v- Stephen Bonsfield dated 27 April 2006. In this judgement, the court noted that Article 382 of the Criminal Code dictates that in a judgment the court should list the facts of the case, a declaration of guilt and punishment while quoting the articles of the law.
The judgement also held that the court must say precisely which charges the accused is guilty of and give a summary of those charges. In this case, the judgement was declared null because it failed to give the facts of the case.
The Court of Criminal Appeal extrapolated this principle and applied it to this case. The Magistrates Court first held that the accused was not guilty of the first charge, but then held that he was. Quoting from the same judgment the court held that the judgment should be annulled and not the whole criminal proceedings.
The Court of Criminal Appeal ordered that the acts of the proceeding be returned to the Magistrates Court and the accused should be put back in the same status as he was before the judgement was delivered.
Dr Malcolm Mifsud
Mifsud & Mifsud Advocates
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