The Court held that the Criminal Court has a discretion to award a punishment in cases of wilful homicide in terms of Article 492(2) of the Criminal Code. This was held by the Criminal Court on 17 July 2023 in Repubblika ta’ Malta vs Michael Emmanuel.
Michael Emmanuel was found guilty for the wilful homicide of his partner Maria Lourdes Agius and sentenced to life imprisonment and was ordered to pay €9,839.30 in court expenses. Agius was found dead in her bedroom on 14 September 2018, due to strangulation by her partner Michael Emmanuel.
Emmanuel was accused of seven offences, in which he was found guilty on the first count; wilful homicide by the jury who reached an 8-1 verdict. The accused was also found guilty of slight bodily harm on Maria-Lourdes Agius and her mother who lived in the same household as Emmanuel. Furthermore, he was found guilty of forging public, commercial or private bank accounts and disobeying lawful orders.
When one is found guilty of wilful homicide, the law is very clear as it is states in Article 211 of the Criminal code that “Whosoever shall be guilty of wilful homicide shall be punished with imprisonment for life”. Thus, a person who falls under this Article of law suffers the harshest punishment found in the Maltese Criminal Code. This is life imprisonment. As stated in the judgment, it does not mean that if one is found guilty of wilful homicide, they receive a punishment of life imprisonment. Judge Aaron Bugeja, the judge presiding over this case, made it clear that it is up to the discretion of the court to establish the punishment, although it was the State’s recommendation that there should be life imprisonment and solitary confinement.
The Court pointed out that there was a distinction between Article 492(2) of the Criminal code, which allows the Court discretion on which punishment is awarded when the verdict in a jury is not unanimous and Article 17(b) of the Criminal Code, which provides that when a person is found guilty of more than one crime, the punishment shall be for the graver crime with an increase varying from one third to one half of the aggregate duration of the other punishments. However, Article 17(b) does not cater for life imprisonment.
When taking into account the seven charges the jury had to deliberate on, the majority of charges the jury delivered verdicts which were clear that upon understanding the facts of the case, were fairly confident upon the guilt of Michael Emmanuel. Although the jury did not vote unanimously upon the guilty verdict of accusation of wilful, as it ended up with 8 jurors finding Emmanuel guilty whilst 1 juror did not. This was used by the defence lawyer Dr Simon Micallef Stafrace, who argued that an 8-1 verdict does not translate to a unanimous verdict, due to the fact that 1 juror was not convinced that the accused was guilty. Thus, the defence raised this plea so that the court does not give the accused the maximum punishment of life imprisonment accompanied with solitary confinement as it was not a unanimous verdict. The Court did comment that the closer the verdict to unanimous the closer the punishment should be towards the maximum punishment.
The prosecution told jurors that the crime committed by the accused was heinous. In addition to this, they stated that the victim died a “cruel” death. By way of referring to the judgment, the prosecution urged the court to follow the state’s recommendation and give Emmanuel the biggest punishment. The prosecution also shed a light on the fact that this is not just a homicide trial, but also a domestic violence trial. This is because, the victim was beaten gravely by the accused whilst in her house which was considered to be a “safe space”, but in turn became a ground of a malicious violence which resulted in the death of a mother.
Ultimately, the court decided to base its decision on the specific circumstances of the case in question. Upon hearing submissions from both sides and also the parte civile representing the victim’s family. The court looked at certain criteria which were factored in when taking the decision on what punishment, Michael Emmanuel was to be given.
Mr Justice Aaron Bugeja decided that the accused was to receive a punishment of life imprisonment and he was also ordered to pay €9,839.36 for court expenses.
Av. Malcolm Mifsud
This article may also be accessed on Malta Today.
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