A legal wrong could be said to be an act or an omission that violates the laws promulgated by the State for the purpose of the administration of justice within a specific territory. Legal wrongs can be divided into two main categories being: Civil Wrongs and Criminal Offences.
A criminal wrong is associated with a public wrong since it refers to offences committed against the State or the community. On the other hand, civil wrongs are private in nature as they are committed against a private person and are dealt with through civil proceedings by the person so injured. Worth noting that a legal wrong committed by a private individual can give rise to both criminal proceedings as well as civil proceedings and such proceedings are exercised independently of each other. Courts of Criminal judicature determine whether a person is guilty or not whilst matters related to a claim for damages are dealt by courts of a Civil judicature.
The general conditions for criminal responsibility are indicated with sufficient accuracy in the old legal maxim; “actus non facit reum, nisi mens sit rea”. The act alone does not amount to guilt; it must be accompanied by a guilty mind. That is to say, there are two conditions to be fulfilled before criminal responsibility can arise. These are the material and the formal conditions of liability. The material condition is the actus reus that is, the doing of some act (either of commission or omission) by the person to be held liable. The formal condition, on the other hand, is the mens rea, or the guilty mind, with which the act is done.
Maltese Criminal Law in mainly promulgated in Chapter 9 of the Laws of Malta. ‘Book First’ of our Criminal Code deals with various offences, their elements and punishment. ‘Book Second’ deals with the laws of criminal procedure.
Article two of the Criminal Code provides that criminal offences in Malta are to be divided in two major classifications, that is, into Crimes and Contraventions; the more heinous offences are crimes, the less heinous contraventions. Furthermore, part two of book one of the Criminal Code deals with the offences of Crimes and their punishments whilst part three of book one deals with Contraventions and their punishments.
Article 4 of Chapter 9 states that the criminal action is essentially a public action and is vested in the State and is prosecuted in the name of the Republic of Malta, through the Executive Police or the Attorney General, as the case may be, according to law. This action is prosecuted ex officio (automatically) in all cases where the complaint of the private party is not requisite to set the action in motion or where the law does not expressly leave the prosecution of the action to a private party.
The Executive Police in Malta are responsible for the detection, investigation and prosecution of criminal offences. The Attorney General comes in depending on the seriousness of the offence. These prosecuting authorities cannot be always aware of all criminal offences. Hence a criminal action can be set in motion through by anyone through information, through the provision of a report, or through the lodging of a complaint to the Police.
In Malta, the criminal action is always exercised before the Court of Magistrates. This Court can act either as a court of criminal inquiry or as a court of trial. Article 370(1) of our Criminal Code states that the Court of Magistrates sitting as a Court of Criminal Judicature has an original competence to try offences carrying a maximum of 6 months imprisonment. However, in particular circumstances, the Court of Magistrates can become competent to proceed and pass judgment in relation to offences carrying a punishment not exceeding 10 years imprisonment.
If the criminal action is not exercised by the competent authorities, it can be extinguished through the passage of time, this is referred to as ‘Prescription’. All criminal offences are subject to the laws of prescription and our Criminal code provides for different periods of prescription depending on the nature of the offence. It is also important to note that there exist various instances that can interrupt or suspend prescription. However, once prescription verifies itself, being a matter of public policy, it runs independently of the will of the prosecution or of the accused and the effect it brings with it is the extinction of the criminal action.
The above is only for information purposes and should in no way be construed as legal advice. Each situation requires to be examined on its own merits. We at Calleja Legal can assist or represent you in criminal related matters. As such we invite you to get in touch with your enquiry.