Malta / Court of Appeal (Civil, Superior)

Zammit Joseph vs. Kummisarju Tal-Pulizija Et
Policy area
Justice, freedom and security
Deciding body type
National Court/Tribunal
Deciding body
Court of Appeal (Civil, Superior)
Decision date
ECLI (European case law identifier)
  • Malta / Court of Appeal (Civil, Superior)

    Key facts of the case:

    In 2018, the Criminal Court found the applicant guilty of living off the earnings of prostitution and running a brothel, and ordered the confiscation of his garage, in which the crimes took place. The applicant appealed the decision, arguing that Article 7 of Chapter 373 of the Laws of Malta (Money Laundering Act) allows for a revocation of confiscation if the forfeited property was not acquired through the proceedings of illicit activities. The applicant submitted proof that he had bought the garage through a bank loan, and not with the profits of prostitution. The Police and Attorney General responded that the garage had not been confiscated under the Money Laundering Act, but rather under Chapter 9 of the Criminal Code. 

    Zammit then raised a human rights argument. Citing Article 1 Protocol 1 of the ECHR and Article 49(3) of the Charter, he claimed that the confiscation would be a violation of his right to property and amount to disproportionate punishment. 

    The Court agreed with the position of the Police and held that the applicant’s claim rested on the wrong legal basis. It refused to consider the human rights argument, stating that the applicant cannot try to save his position by raising constitutional questions at the last minute. 

    The applicant appealed the decision before the Court of Appeal on two grounds, putting forward the applicability of Article 7 of the Money Laundering Act, and claiming that the confiscation would result in a violation of Article 14 and 1 Protocol 12 of the ECHR and Article 49(3), 48 and 21 of the Charter. The applicant argued that the confiscation would result in a violation of his right to the peaceful enjoyment of property (Article 1 Protocol 1 ECHR) and that the severity of the penalty would be disproportionate to the criminal offence (Article 49 of the Charter). The appellant further complained that the first-instance judgment did not address this complaint and asked to defer the matter to the First Hall of the Civil Court which handles cases of alleged violations of human rights. 

    Key legal question raised by the Court:

    Does a confiscation of funds (Article 7 of Chapter 373 of the Laws of Malta) apply to this case? Does the relevant confiscation of property violate Article 49(3) of the Charter?

    Outcome of the case:

    The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal. The Court firstly noted that the first-instance court had rightly ordered the confiscation under Article 23 Chapter 9 of the Criminal Code. The remedy under Article 7, Chapter 373 (Money Laundering Act) is not applicable, as it only refers to property seized under Article 3(5) of the same Act, namely assets related to crimes of money laundering.  

    The Court of Appeal further dismissed the second ground of appeal, noting that the applicant could not try to save his own position by raising constitutional issues, considering that his arguments are ill-founded.  

    Acknowledging that a constitutional issue may be raised at any time, the Court, however, noted that, if the appellant believed that the confiscation would result in a violation of Article 49(3) of the Charter, he should have appealed the Magistrates’ Court decision or filed an application for constitutional remedy. Instead, the appellant raised his human rights complaints as an afterthought. The Court, therefore, considered these complaints frivolous and vexatious and dismissed the second ground of appeal, notwithstanding the right of the appellant to turn to the competent tribunal for remedy.  

  • Paragraphs referring to EU Charter

    7. The Court reviewed the application presented by the applicant Joseph Zammit, which requests that this Court refers the dispute to the First Chamber of the Civil Court (Constitutional Seat) for the purposes of Article 46 (30) of the Constitution of Malta and Article 4(1) of Chapter 319 of the Laws of Malta so that the Court: 

    (i) Rules whether the acts under appeal is injurious to his fundamental rights enshrined in Article 37 and Article 45 of the Constitution of Malta and Article 1 (Protocol 1), Article 14 and Article 1 (Protocol 12) of the European Convention of Human Rights, and Article 49(3), 48 and 21 of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights; 

    (ii) Grants all relevant and applicable remedies. 


    15. It further emerges that, the applicant has raised an argument that may be constitutional in nature, meaning that in the event that the preliminary exceptions raised by the defendants are accepted, his right to the enjoyment of property as enshrined in Article 1 (Protocol 1) of the European Convention of Human Rights would have been violated, and that the punishment inflicted on him would be an excessive one. This would, in turn, be in violation of Article 49(3) of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, and the reason for requesting the Court to investigate the constitutional nature of this dispute. 


     “Dr Azzopardi pointed out on behalf of the applicant that, from the first and second exceptions put forward by the defendants, in the view of the claimant, a violation of his fundamental rights is triggered in the event that these exceptions are accepted. This would be in the sense of violation of the right of the applicant in terms of Article 49(3) of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights as well as Article 1 of the Protocol No. 1 of the European Convention of Human Rights and therefore the applicant asks that the Court in deciding upon his case, in connection with the exceptions numbers 1 and 2, upholds the complaint of the applicant. 


    13. Dr De Gabriele objected to this request, given that a request for the Civil Court to convert itself into a Constitutional Court should not be limited, but rather at a stage where an issue arises, or upon the allegation of the breach of fundamental rights, or of the Charter. In this case, the applicant was aware that he lacked the remedy contemplated under Chapter 373 of the Laws of Malta, together with Article 3(5) of the same Chapter. Therefore, this was not an issue that was raised during the proceedings of the case.” 


    22. Turning next, to the applicant’s second ground of appeal in which he claims that accepting the preliminary exceptions submitted by the defendants would amount to a breach of his human rights under Article 1 of the Protocol No. 1 of the European Convention of Human Rights. Also, the punishment inflicted upon him was excessive when considering the accusation and in violation of Article 49(3) of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. Therefore, he requested the first-instance court to investigate the constitutional issue of this complaint. The applicant argues that the first-instance court did not consider this element, as it noted that the raising of today’s proceedings is insubstantial. The requested argument itself was inadmissible, given that the applicant cannot raise a constitutional issue to save his case.     

    However, the first-instance court would have had the necessary competences and right to investigate matters related to constitutional complaints. Thus, he maintains that, despite the fact that the first-instance  court could have come to the conclusion that Article 7 of Chapter 373 would not have been applicable in the case under examination, it could have taken cognisance of the constitutional element, such that the original requests put before it could be clearly distinguished for the purposes of examining such complaint. Although the appellant is well aware that this Court cannot convert itself to a Constitutional Court, he contends that should this Court accept this appeal, it may refer the action to the first-instance court. The latter would, in its constitutional role, investigate the constitutional dispute brought by him before giving judgement on the initial application brought by him. 


    25. and (ii) While the respondents and the Courts should have all the tools to combat crime, these must not entail powers to erode his fundamental rights, among which is the right to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions under Article 39 of the Constitution and Article 1 of the Protocol No. 1 of the European Convention of Human Rights, along with Article 49(3) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights​. The latter entails​​     ​ that every penalty or punishment imposed on an individual must be proportionate to the alleged crime committed by him. The applicant is correct in using today’s proceedings to protest against the confiscation that he suffered, since not all the factors of the case have been considered, and the total penalties, including the confiscation of his property, are not considered to be a proportionate punishment. Therefore, it must be determined whether the actions of the respondents were proportionate and objectively justified under the extensive jurisprudence of the Court of Justice of the European Union.


    27. This Court agrees with the respondents’ statements in their response to the aforementioned​ appeal​​     ​, which is anomalous​.​  ​ The applicant contests​ ​​​the decision of the first-instance court that dismissed his request to consider the constitutional complaints that he had raised. He requests that this Court refers​ ​​     ​the acts to the first-instance court​,​ so that, after converting itself to a constitutional court setting, it determines the constitutional complaint and, ​included in ​​     ​the second part of his appeal against the appealed sentence, he is now putting another application forward​.​​ ​ In it, the appellant​     ​ requests a constitutional reference (when it is more similar to a true constitutional application). It is also noted that, while before the first-instance court the applicant’s complaint was based on Article 49(3) of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and Article 1 of the Protocol No. 1 of the European Convention of Human Rights, the last pleadings included many provisions of the law​ that he ​​​invoked ​​to convince this Court of the validity of his assertion. 

  • Paragraphs referring to EU Charter (original language)

    7. Rat ir-rikors ippreżentat fil-mori tal-appell mill-appellant Joseph Zammit, li permezz tiegħu talab lil din il-Qorti sabiex tirreferi l-vertenza kostituzzjonali lill-Prim’Awla tal-Qorti Ċivili (Sede Kostituzzjonali) għallfinijiet tal-Artikolu 46(3) tal-Kostituzzjoni ta Malta u tal-Artikolu 4(1) talKapitolu 319 tal-Liġijiet ta’ Malta sabiex dik il-Qorti: (I) Taqta’ u tiddeċiedi jekk l-aġir tal-appellati huwiex leżiv tad-drittijiet fundamentali tiegħu sanċiti fl-Artikolu 37 u l-Artikolu 45 tal-Kostituzzjoni ta’ Malta u fl-Artikolu 1 tal-Protokoll numru 1, fl-Artikolu 14 u fl-Artikolu 1 tal-Protokoll numru 12 tal-Konvenzjoni Ewropea Għall-Protezzjoni tad-Drittijiet tal-Bniedem u tal-Libertajiet Fundamentali, u tal-Artikolu 49(3), 48 u 21 tal-Karta tadDrittijiet Fundamentali tal-Unjoni Ewropea; (II) kif ukoll li tagħti dawk iddirettivi kollha relevanti u opportuni. 


    15. Jirriżulta wkoll illi, fil-mori tal-kawża, ir-rikorrent qajjem lanjanza li tista’ tkun ta’ indole kostituzzjonali, ossija illi f’każ illi l-eċċezzjonijiet preliminari imqajjma mill-intimati jiġu aċċettati, d-dritt tiegħu għattgawdija tal-propjeta’ kif sanċita’ fl-Artikolu 1 tal-Ewwel Protokol talKonvenzjoni għall-Protezzjoni tad-Drittijiet tal-Bniedem u talLibertajiet Fundamentali kien ser jiġi leż, kif ukoll illi l-piena inflitta lilu kienet ser tkun waħda eċċessiva meta titqies l-akkuża minnu ammessa, u dana bi ksur tal-Artikolu 49(3) taċ-Charter tal-Unjoni Ewoprea tad-drittijiet tal-Bniedem, u għalhekk ir-rikorrent talab lil Qorti sabiex jinvestiga l-kweżit kostituzzjonali ta’ dina l-vertenza   

    “Dr Azzopardi għar-rikorrent irrileva illi mill-eċċezzjonijiet 1 u 2 mressqa 'l quddiem mill-konvenuti jiskatta fil-fehma tar-rikorrenti vjolazzjoni tad- drittijiet tiegħu fl-eventwalita' illi dawn l-eċċezzjonijiet jiġu milqugħa. Dana fis-sens illi jkun qed jiġi vjolat id-dritt tar-rikorrent a tenur tal-Artiklu 49 (3) tal-EU Charter of Fundamental Rights kif ukoll tal-Artiklu 1 tal-ewwel protokoll tal-Konvenzjoni Ewropea dwar idDrittijiet tal-Bniedem u għaldaqstant ir-rikorrenti jitlob lil din il-Qorti sabiex l-istadju tad-deċiżjoni tagħha in konnessjoni mal-eċċezzjonijiet numru 1 u 2, din il-Qorti tiddeċiedi il-lanjanza hawn sollevata mirrikorrenti” 


    13. Dr De Gabriele għall-konvenut joġġezzjona għal din it-talba u dan stante illi talba sabiex il-Qorti Ċivili tikkonverti ruħha f’Qorti Kostituzzjonali ma ssirx in limine litis imma fi stadju fejn tinqala’ kwistjoni jew allegatament ta’ ksur tad-dritt fundamentali jew taċ- Charter. F’din il-kawża l-attur kien ben konsapevoli li huwa ma kellux ir-rimedju kontemplat taħt il-Kap 373 tal-Liġijiet ta’ Malta senjatament l-Artiklu 3 (5) tal-istess Kap. Li għaldaqstant, din ma kenitx kwistjoni li tqajmet matul il-proceduri fil-mori tal-kawża. 


    22. Imiss li jiġi trattat it-tieni aggravju tal-attur appellant, dak dwar illanjanza kostituzzjonali fejn huwa jsostni li f’każ li l-eċċezzjonijiet ppellatey mressqa mill-konvenuti jintlaqgħu, ser ikun hemm leżjoni taddritt tiegħu għat-tgawdija paċifika tal-proprjeta` kif sanċit fl-Artikolu 1 talEwwel Protokoll tal-Konvenzjoni għall-Protezzjoni tad-Drittijiet talBniedem u tal-Libertajiet Fundamentali. Hekk ukoll, il-piena nflitta fuqu kienet waħda eċċessiva, meta titqies l-akkuża minnu ammessa u dan bi ksur tal-Artikolu 49(3) tac-Charter tal-Unjoni Ewropea tad-Drittijiet talBniedem. Għalhekk huwa talab lill-ewwel Qorti sabiex hija stess tinvestiga l-kweżit kostituzzjonali ta’ din il-vertenza. L-appellant jilmenta li l-ewwel Qorti ma ħaditx konjizzjoni ta’ dan l-ilment, tant li stqarret li ġaldarba l-punt tat-tluq tal-proċeduri odjerni huma monki, peress li lazzjoni kif imressqa qatt ma setgħet tkun proponibbli, l-attur ma jistax isalva l-azzjoni tiegħu billi fl-aħħar minuta jqajjem kwistjoni ta’ natura kostituzzjonali. Iżda huwa ried li l-ewwel Qorti tikkonverti ruħha sabiex ikollha l-kompetenza meħtieġa li tinvestiga u tiddetermina l-lanjanza kostituzzjonali tagħha qabel tgħaddi sabiex tieħu konjizzjoni tat-talbiet tiegħu fir-rikors promotur. Kwindi jsostni li, minkejja li l-ewwel Qorti setgħet tasal għall-konklużjoni li l-Artikolu 7 tal-Kap. 373 mhux applikabbli fil-każ in eżami, xorta setgħet tieħu konjizzjoni tal-ilment kostituzzjonali tiegħu b’mod ppellat u distint mit-talbiet oriġinali tiegħu. Għalkemm lappellant huwa konsapevoli tal-fatt li din il-Qorti ma tistax tikkonverti ruħha f’sede kostituzzjonali, iżda jikkontendi li jekk din il-Qorti tiddeċiedi li tilqa’ dan l-aggravju, hija tista’ tirrinvija l-atti lill-ewwel Qorti sabiex filvesti kostituzzjonali tagħha tinvesti l-vertenza kostituzzjonali sollevata minnu qabel tagħti ġudizzju fuq ir-rikors promotur imressaq minnu. 


    25. u (ii) Filwaqt li l-intimati u l-Qrati għandu jkollhom l-għodod kollha sabiex jiġġieldu l-kriminalita` dawn m’għandux ikollhom poteri sabiex joħonqu d-drittijiet fundamentali tiegħu, fosthom dak għad-dritt ta’ tgawdija paċifika ta’ ħwejġu kif sanċit fl-Artikolu 39 tal-Kostituzzjoni u lewwel Artikolu tal-Ewwel Protokoll tal-Konvenzjoni Ewropea għallProtezzjoni tad-Drittijiet tal-Bniedem u tal-Libertajiet Fundamentali, apparti li l-Artikolu 49(3) tal-Karta tad-Drittijiet Fundamentali tal-Unjoni Ewropea, jipprovdi li kull piena jew kastig impost fuqu għandu jkun proporzjonat mal-allegat reat kommess minnu u huwa qiegħed proprju jikkontesta l-konfiska minnu subita permezz tal-proċeduri odjerni, peress li kunsidrati l-fatturi kollha tal-każ, huwa ma jqisx il-piena totali li tinkludi l-konfiska tal-proprjeta` bħala piena proporzjonata. Għalhekk jeħtieġ li jiġi determinat jekk l-aġir tal-appellati kienx proporzjonat u oġġettivament ġustifikat skont ġurisprudenza estensiva tal-Qorti tal-Ġustizzja tal-Unjoni Ewropea ċitata minnu. 


    27. Għandu jingħad li tabilħaqq din il-Qorti taqbel ma’ dak li jingħad mill-appellati fir-risposta tagħhom għall-imsemmi rikors li huwa mill-aktar anomalu li filwaqt li l-appellant fir-rikors tal-appell tiegħu jikkontesta d-deċiżjoni tal-ewwel Qorti li ċaħdet it-talba tiegħu sabiex tikkunsidra lilmenti kostituzzjonali minnu sollevati u jitlob lil din il-Qorti tirrinvija l-atti lill-ewwel Qorti sabiex wara li tikkonverti ruħha f’sede kostituzzjonali u tiddetermina hi l-lanjanza kostituzzjonali u dan bħala parti mit-tieni aggravju tiegħu fil-konfront tas-sentenza appellata, issa qiegħed iressaq rikors ieħor fejn għal darb’oħra jitlob referenza kostituzzjonali (meta huwa aktar simili għal rikors kostituzzjonali veru u proprju). Min-naħa l-oħra, jiġi nnutat ukoll li, filwaqt li quddiem l-ewwel Qorti l-lanjanzi tal-attur kienu msejsa fuq l-Artikolu 49(3) tal-EU Charter of Fundamental Rights u lArtikolu 1 tal-Ewwel Protokoll tal-Konvenzjoni Ewropea tad-Drittijiet talBniedem u tal-Libertajiet Fundamentali, f’dan l-aħħar rikors żdiedu bilbosta l-provvedimenti tal-liġi nvokati mill-appellant sabiex jittanta jikkonvinċi lil din il-Qorti dwar il-validita` tat-talba tiegħu. Tentattiv ieħor tal-appellant sabiex minflok jidħol mill-bieb, tabilħaqq jidħol mit-tieqa.