General Questions

What’s the difference between a civil and criminal case?

The major difference is that civil lawsuits are initiated by a private person and criminal cases are brought by the State.

A civil case is a private lawsuit. The person who files the case is the plaintiff. The person against whom the case is file is the defendant. The plaintiff claims that the defendant has failed to carry out an obligation towards the plaintiff. The plaintiff may ask the court to order the defendant to fulfil the duty, to pay damages for the harm done, or both.

A criminal case is brought by the Executive Police or the Attorney General. A criminal case  concerns an offence committed against the State or the community.

What immediate action can a victim or family member take to protect their interests after an incident?

Generally the police will take control of the scene of an incident once it is reported and access will be limited.

However, if you do manage to legally get access to the scene of an incident, you can take photos of relevant elements which can be useful later in the legal process (e.g. in the event of a traffic accident, take photos of the exact location of the accident, stop signs, blood stains, etc.).

If there are witnesses to the incident, it may be advisable to reach out to them and ask for their contact details. Their testimony may be useful during legal proceedings.

What is legal aid and can I access it?

Legal aid is legal representation provided by the State. In civil cases, legal aid is provided when a plaintiff or defendant cannot afford to pay for a lawyer. In a criminal case, if you would like a legal aid lawyer, one will be appointed for you regardless of how much money you have.

To access legal aid for a civil case, you need to fit certain criteria:

  • You cannot own more than €13,000 in assets (liquid or fixed), and
  • You cannot earn more than the national minimum wage (circa €11,000 per year)
    • If you pay rent or maintenance for a child, the amounts can be subtracted from the total amount you earn to test whether you are able to claim legal aid. For instance, if you earn €15,000 a year and pay €6,000 in rent, per year you can still access the service if you provide proof of your rental payments.

You can find out more about legal aid and apply on the official website.

On average, how long does it take for a court case to be decided?

The length of a lawsuit cannot really be calculated beforehand. Every case is different and any case can be subject to unexpected court delays.

What should I do if a person/entity I am suing contacts me directly to settle the matter out of court?

Always seek legal advice if you are contacted by the person/s you are suing. Do not agree to anything without consulting your lawyer. The person can request a meeting or just ask to meet informally to talk it out. Do not agree to do this without talking to your lawyer first, because there may be legal or safety risks.

Will the lawyer be able to represent me in court if I am unable to attend?

If you are unable to be present in court (due to medical reasons, no longer living in the country, or work reasons, et cetera), you are still able to continue with court proceedings by signing over your Power of Attorney (POA), more commonly known as “prokura’, to your lawyer. The POA is a legal document that allows your lawyer to make decisions on your behalf about the court case.

You can cancel the POA whenever you want. To do this, you need to print, fill in and sign a simple form and hand it in at The Office of the Notary to Government, at 2/3 , Mikiel Anton Vassalli Street, Valletta VLT 1310. If you need to do this, your lawyer will explain the process to you.

I was told I can access Criminal Injuries Compensation. What would it entitle me to?

Maltese and European citizens are entitled to claim compensation for the injuries they have sustained:

  • if the injuries are reported to the police straight away, or
  • if the injuries result in a case being initiated in the criminal court.

Such compensation can be claimed either by the victim him/herself or by the victim’s dependent/s or by a person who has lost money or faced expenses because of the crime involving the victim. According to the, this compensation cannot be claimed if the victim was fully or partly responsible for the crime. The maximum amount a claimant can receive through this fund is €23,300 and the payment will be made in a lump sum.

If you accept criminal injuries compensation, you surrender your rights as a victim of crime. This means only the State will be able to take action against the perpetrator. You will no longer be able to sue the perpetrator yourself in a civil court.

Can I speak to the press before, during or after the court case?

Yes, but it would be best to get advice from your lawyers about what you say and when to say it. What you say to the press may be misinterpreted and used against you in court. It is your lawyers’ duty to advise you specifically about what you should or shouldn’t say to the press – do not hesitate to ask questions and demand a specific answer from your lawyer.

Generally speaking, if you stick to the facts of the case and speak about the victim as an individual (their life, interests, hopes, etc.) this should not prejudice your legal position. In fact, it is advisable to keep the case in the public eye and the memory of the individual alive. But again, always check with your lawyer first.

It is also important to note that it is best to speak to the press in writing. The written correspondence is evidence of what you say. If you decide to open a case with the PILN, the team at the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation will guide you on such matters.

A politician has contacted me to advocate for my cause on my behalf. What should I do?

Even though the politician may have the best intentions, it is important that your case does not get turned into a political or partisan issue. Your fight is for justice, not a partisan matter.

If you are contacted by anyone (public or private) about your case, it is best to contact your lawyer or a member of the team on your case for advice. Do not engage with that person until you have received legal guidance on what to do next.

The courts have told me I must prepare an affidavit to tell my version of events. How do I go about making one?

An affidavit is a written statement given under oath declaring that certain facts are true to the best of the person’s knowledge. The statement must be written in the first person, detailing the facts of the event you are giving an account of.

There is no need for the affidavit to be a long document, as long as you give all the details relevant to the event.

The document will need to be signed and stamped by a notary or a Commissioner for Oaths. You can do this by going to the Commissioner for Oaths’ office at the Courts of Malta. The office is situated at the side of the law courts and the signature and stamp is provided against a small fee.

Next page: Victims’ Guidebook Part 3 – Criminal Law