Maltese Criminal Justice System

Maltese Criminal Justice System

This entry gives a general account of the overall criminal system and outline the political and legal structure and the history of the Maltese criminal justice system to help account for the unique aspects that may help to bind the many parts of this criminal justice system together, and to show the extent to how this criminal justice system plays in the overall social control of Malta. The section on crime definitions and statistic provides some basis of “output” of the criminal justice bureaucracies of the country.


1. Political System.

At the executive level of government, there are two Ministries which administer the criminal justice system of Malta, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Home Affairs. The former is
responsible for the administration of the courts and for proposing and piloting laws in the House of Representatives. The latter is responsible for the Police and Correctional Institutions. The Ministry of Justice (Attorney General’s Office) and the Ministry of Home Affairs (Police) are
responsible for the prosecution of offenders. The Judiciary enjoys absolute independence from the other branches of government.

2. Legal System.

The Maltese legal system, in all its jurisdictions is essentially adversarial and is regulated by specified rules of procedure contained in the Criminal Code and in the Code of Organization and Civil Procedure.

3. History of the Criminal Justice Systems.

Many components of the legal system of Malta
originated in the last century when the Island was
occupied by the British. However, in spite of a
century and a half of British rule, Malta’s legal
system retained its civil law origin which was
already deeply rooted when the British arrived.
Various principles of common law, however, have
been introduced in Maltese public law and it is a
generally accepted maxim that in the absence of a
specific provision in the law, the principles of
British public law normally apply.
Maltese criminal law is perhaps the best
example of this fusion of civil law principles
with those of common law. The Maltese Criminal
Code, which was first enacted in 1854, was modeled
on the contemporary Italian and French Codes as
far as substantive criminal law is concerned, but
incorporated the English and Scottish rules for
purposes of criminal procedure.
Since its promulgation, the Criminal Code has
undergone several amendments in a continuous
attempt to keep the notions of crime and
punishment in line with the changing forms of
criminality and the evolving conceptions of due
process. Today, the concept of a fair hearing is
regulated by the Code, the Constitution and the
European Convention on Human Rights.


1. Classification of Crime.

* Legal classification. The Criminal Code
distinguishes between crimes and contraventions,
the former being of a more serious nature. Crimes
include treason, coup d’etat, insurrection,
willful homicide, bodily harm, theft, receiving
stolen property, misappropriation, assault and
resistance against police officers, bribery, abuse
of power, rape, prostitution, indecent assault,
defilement of minors, forgery, fraud, perjury and
many others. Apart from this, however, various
other laws exist which establish a great number of
other crimes not listed in the Code, such as drug
abuse and trafficking, money laundering, electoral
fraud, and counterfeiting of money.
Contraventions include disturbance of
public peace, swearing, unlawful betting, various
traffic offenses, dumping of garbage, failure to
pay maintenance, drunkenness, vagrancy, minor
assault, and threatening. The Criminal Code deals
with some contraventions while others are to be
found in the Code of Police Laws and various Acts
of Parliament.

* Age of criminal responsibility. Criminal
responsibility starts from the age of nine.
Between the ages nine and fourteen, a person is
presumed to be incapable of forming a malicious
intent. However, criminal responsibility can be
established, if it is proved that the person acted
with mischievous discretion. Between the ages of
fourteen and eighteen, a person is deemed to be
able to form criminal intent, and, if found
guilty, can be sentenced to imprisonment.
However, the Code provides for a reduction in

* Drug offenses. The unlawful use of drugs and
their trafficking is regulated by the Dangerous
Drugs Ordinance, 1939 as amended. Unlawful drugs
include raw opium and coca leaves, prepared opium,
marijuana, cocaine, morphine and its derivatives
and various other pharmacological combinations.

2. Crime Statistics.

The following statistics are derived from the
1993 Annual Report of the Police.

* Murder. In 1993, the police recorded 7 cases of
willful homicide and 7 cases of attempted
murder. (Editor’s note: In 1994 the population of
Malta was 367,000.)

* Rape. In 1993, the police recorded 5 cases of
forcible rape and 8 cases of attempted rape.

* Theft. In 1993, the police recorded a total of
2,614 cases of theft.

* Serious drug offense. In 1993, the police
recorded 138 cases of drug crimes, which included
drug possession and/or trafficking. Attempts are

* Crime regions. Information not available.


1. Groups Most Victimized by Crime.

Information not available.

2. Victims’ Assistance Agencies.

During 1993, a domestic violence victim
assistance unit within the Police Corps was
created consisting of three female police officers
and a supervising sergeant.
In 1987, a system for compensation to crime
victims was established within the Ministry of
Justice by a Cabinet of Ministers decision (Memo
168). Since 1987, compensation payments have
totaled approximately 10,000 Maltese pounds (LM).
This system was created as an interim measure
until appropriate legislation governing
compensation for victims of crime is enacted.
Payments are given on an ex gratia basis to
persons who have suffered bodily harm. It is
limited to those cases where bodily harm is caused
in any of the following cases: a) a breakdown of
law and order, b) when those responsible for law
and order are themselves in breach of the law, and
c) the harm is suffered by members of the security
forces in the course of their duties as a result
of a criminal offense. The amount of compensation
is determined in each case on the advice given by
specialists who follow the criteria established by
the courts in awarding damages.

3. Role of Victim in Prosecution and Sentencing.

There are some crimes and contraventions
which are only prosecutable upon the private
complaint of the citizen. In these cases,
prosecutorial action is withdrawn if the
complainant drops the accusation. Examples are
those cases which involve slander, certain
instances of defilement of minors, slight bodily
harm, minor cases of willful damage, and minor
cases of involuntary bodily harm. In all other
cases, where the action is taken ex officio, the
victim has a right to be represented by counsel
during the proceedings of the first instance only,
during which witnesses can be produced and others

4. Victims’ Rights Legislation.

Aside from the above-mentioned 1989 victims’
compensation scheme, there is no other victims’
rights legislation.


1. Administration.

The Police represent a component of the
Ministry of Home Affairs and Social Development.
The corps is headed by a Commissioner of Police
assisted by four Deputy Commissioners.
The Police and the Armed Forces are separate
organizations. However, the Military is permitted
in limited circumstances (e.g. evasion of customs
duty and drug offenses), to perform traditional
police functions.
Police subdivisions include intelligence,
vice squad, special assignments group,
immigration, licensing, traffic, fire brigade,
cavalry, forensic laboratory, garage, weapons,
police academy, personnel and criminal

2. Resources.

* Expenditures. The approved estimated budget for
police expenditure in 1994 is of LM 8,819,000. (In
1993, the approved estimated budge for
police was LM 7,984,000).

The approved estimated budget for capital
expenditure in 1994 is LM 350,000. (In 1993,
the approved estimated budget for
capital expenditure was LM 320,000).

* Number of police. For 1993, the police force
included 11 superintendents, 56 inspectors, 24
sergeant majors, 244 sergeants, and 1,187
constables. There were 200 women in the Police
Corps in 1993.

3. Technology.

* Availability of police automobiles. There are
403 vehicles at the disposal of the Police
including 82 motorcycles. The ratio of police to
vehicles is approximately four to one (4:1).

* Electronic equipment. The Police are equipped
with computer aided dispatch equipment, a
computerized recording system, and radio
communications equipment.

* Weapons. Police normally do not carry weapons.
However, handguns and batons are available. The
Special Assignment Group (SAG) is further equipped
with rifles, shotguns, tear gas and bulletproof

4. Training and Qualifications.
Police recruits are selected after a call for
applications. A school leaving certificate is
required as a minimum academic qualification. The
recruit must be at least 18 years-old, have a
record of good conduct, and be of a specified
height. Successful recruits complete six months
of Police Academy training, whereupon they are
appointed constables. Constables, or cadets,
thereafter, follow a two year course at the Police
Academy. There are periodic in-service refresher
courses for senior level police officers.
The faculty of the Police Academy includes
current and retired senior officers, lawyers,
university lecturers and occasionally Magistrates.

5. Discretion.

* Use of force. The law requires that a police
officer shall not use any harshness or other means
of restraint unless required or rendered necessary
by the insubordination of the person arrested.

* Stop/apprehend a suspect. A police officer is
bound by law to present the suspect before the
appropriate court forty-eight hours from the time
of arrest.

* Decision to arrest. The Police have a duty
under the law to preserve order and peace, to
prevent, detect and investigate offenses, to
collect evidence and to bring the offender before
the courts. They also have the duty to issue and
to serve citations summoning persons to appear
before the court. In the exercise of these
duties, the Police have the power to arrest any
person who has committed, or is reasonably
suspected of having committed any crime punishable
with imprisonment with the exception of the crimes
punishable under the Press Act, 1974. In all other
cases, the Police can effect an arrest of a person
who is caught in flagrante or if the arrest is
necessary to prevent the commission of a crime.
Every police officer is also empowered to arrest a
person who, after due warning, knowingly obstructs
or disturbs the execution of police duties or
disobeys lawful orders.
The police officer investigating a suspect,
may resort to a formal cautioning in lieu of
prosecution in minor cases where the person
initiating the complaint has expressed a
preference for this alternative.

* Search and seizure. Police officers from the
rank of inspector upward have a right to search a
person and/or property without a warrant. There
are, however, four instances, when a police
officer below the rank of inspector can search
without a warrant: a) when there is an imminent
danger that the suspect may escape or that the
means of proving the offense will be suppressed;
b) when the suspect is detected in flagrante; c)
when the intervention of the police is necessary
in order to prevent the commission of a crime; d)
when the entry is necessary for the execution of
any warrant or order issued by a competent
authority. The police powers of search are
otherwise limited only by the notion of what is
reasonably justifiable in a democratic society.
* Confessions. Police officers are bound to inform
suspects of their right to silence. Any
confession, to be admissible as evidence, must be
proven to be voluntary, not under duress, and
obtained without the promise of any favor. The
burden of proving whether or not a confession is
voluntary rests on the prosecution. During the
investigation stage and until arraignment, the
suspect, if under arrest, does not have the right
to be assisted by counsel or to contact any
person. In the investigation of any crime, arrest
is not mandatory if it is deemed sufficient to
issue a summons to guarantee the suspect’s
appearance in court.

6. Accountability.

Complaints against the police may be filed
with the Commissioner. In 1991 there were 268
cases under review. The Commissioner also has the
discretion to refer cases to the Public Service
Commission, a governmental body created by the
Constitution to exercise discipline over
government employees. In addition, alleged human
rights violations can be reviewed by the
Constitutional Court.


1. Sentencing Process.

* Who determines the sentence? The judge or
magistrate determines the sentence.

* Is there a special sentencing hearing? The
sentence is determined upon pleadings from counsel
for defense and prosecuting officer either at the
end of trial or in a separate sentencing

* Which persons have input into the sentencing
process? The Jury may recommend clemency.
However, this is not binding upon the judge. At
every stage of the criminal sentencing process,
the judge may request the professional opinion of
psychiatrists, psychologists, probation officers,
social workers, medical specialists and religious
persons and comments from victims. The judge is
not bound by any of the professional opinions. In
addition, the victim has no say in the sentencing

2. Types of Penalties.

* Range of penalties. As per the Criminal Code
the punishments that may be awarded for crimes
include imprisonment, solitary confinement,
interdiction, and fines. The punishments for
contraventions include detention, fines and
reprimand or admonition.
Typically, convictions for willful homicide,
grievous bodily harm (whether or not followed by
death), theft aggravated by violence, rape,
trafficking in drugs, escape from prison and arson
upon conviction are followed by imprisonment.
The Probation of Offenders Act of 1957,
provides for unconditional discharge, conditional
discharge and probation order. Since 1990, the
Criminal Code also provides for suspended
Foreigners may be deported upon conviction.

* Death penalty. The death penalty is only
contemplated for cases of treason in time of war.
Execution is by hanging. No executions were
carried out in the last 50 years even during years
when the death penalty was still in the statute
book for several major crimes.


1. Description.

* Number of prisons and type. There is one prison
which serves as the detention facility for the
convicted, those awaiting trial and those awaiting
removal from the Island. This facility includes
space for males and females, housed separately,
and young offenders 16 years of age and older.

* Number of prison beds. The maximum capacity of
the prison is approximately 800. However, in the
past 7 years, the average daily population has not
surpassed 200.

* Number of annual admissions. In 1991 admissions
amounted to 519, 19 of whom were female, and 90 of
whom were foreign nationals. Foreign nationals
are most frequently of African origin.

* Average daily population/number of prisoners. In
1991, the average daily population was 109.

* Actual or estimated proportions of inmates
incarcerated. The average number of admissions of
sentenced persons for 1991 were as follows:

Drug Crimes 20 ***
Violent Crimes 5 ****
Property Crimes 73 *****
Other Crimes 38 ******

*** The average number of admissions of sentenced
persons for drug crimes for previous years:
18 (1990); 7 (1989); 7 (1988); 6 (1987).
**** The average number of admissions of sentenced
persons for violent crimes for previous
years: 7 (1990); 6 (1989); 19 (1988); and 7
***** The average number of admissions of sentenced
persons for property crimes for previous
years: 48 (1990); 29 (1989); 39 (1988); and
17 (1987).
****** The average number of admissions of sentenced
persons for other crimes for previous years:
37 (1990); 28 (1989); 15 (1988); and 10

2. Administration.

* Administration. Administration of the prison is
entrusted to the Correctional Services Division of
the Ministry of Home Affairs.

* Number of prison guards. In 1991, there were 81
warders, 6 of whom were female.

* Training and qualifications. No prior training
is required for recruitment as prison warder.
Good conduct and a school leaving certificate are
the minimum qualifications.

* Expenditure on prison system. The approved
estimated budget for 1994 is of LM 590,000. An
additional LM 250,000 is allocated for capital

3. Prison Conditions.

* Remissions. Credit for time served in
pre-conviction detention is awarded in the case of
imprisonment. In addition, a prisoner is entitled
to a remission of four months per year for good
behavior. There is no parole system. Presidential
amnesties on special occasions are also granted.

* Work/education. Inmates cannot be forced to
work but they are encouraged to engage in any of
the several working shops. These are not
available to female inmates. Inmates are also
encouraged to attend educational classes.

* Amenities/privileges. Visits are permitted and
medical assistance is provided by law.
Educational and vocational programs are available
on a limited basis.


* Extradition. In large part, Malta abides by the
reciprocal extradition treaties common to British
Commonwealth countries, and on a case by case
basis, participates in the Council of Europe
multilateral treaties.

* Exchange and transfer of prisoners. Malta has
ratified the European Convention on Transfer of
Prisoners. Therefore, prisoners can be exchanged
or transferred to those European Countries which
have similarly ratified the Convention. There are
no formal arrangements with other countries though
arrangements for the transfer or exchange of
prisoners has been reached in the past with Italy,
Belgium, Sweden and Libya.

* Specified conditions. Extradition is regulated
by the Extradition Act of 1978.

Note: this work was completed in 1993


See Also

  • Criminal Justice
  • Legal System
  • Criminology
  • Criminal Justice System

Further Reading

  • Cole, George F., S. J. Frankowski, and M. G. Gertz, (1987) Major Criminal Justice Systems. Beverly Hills: Sage.
  • David, R. and J. E. Brierley (1968) Major Legal Systems of the World Today. London: Free Press.
  • Fairchild, E. (1993), Comparative criminal justice systems. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
  • Feeley, Malcolm M. (1973), “Two models of the criminal justice system”. Law and Society Review, 7(3): 407-425.


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Agius, Carmel A., Honorable Justice, Law Courts,
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Aquilina, K. and Micallef, P., A Profile of the
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Information, Valletta, Malta 1992.
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Code of Police Laws, Chapter 10 of the Laws of
Commissioner of Police, Police Headquarters,
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European Convention Act, 1987.

Mifsud, Paul, Ministry of Home Affairs, Malta.
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Information, 1992.
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the Laws of Malta.
Rowland, James. Consultant, Prisons, Malta.
Personal Interview: March 1994. Personal
Contact. Phone: 695026.
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of the Young, 1990.

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