The horror of Miriam Pace’s killing at the hands of a group of greedy, incompetent, negligent men was shockingly highlighted this week. Magistrate Joe Mifsud, the former PL candidate and journalist, magnanimously decided that the two architects convicted of her involuntary homicide would be spared jail, suggesting that prison terms for the two would be tantamount to revenge.
While passing his sentence, he referred to the fact that the family had “forgiven” the architects responsible for the disaster that robbed her of her life.
The two architects, Roderick Camilleri and Anthony Mangion, whose shoddy work, failure to supervise and careless decisions were found by the court to have caused the tragic death of an innocent woman in her own home, have been allowed to escape jail sentences for reasons that in my view, can only be described as incomprehensible and hugely alarming.
Magistrate Joe Mifsud appears to have decided that the family’s “forgiveness” should take the place of, or substitute, the rule of law, which clearly states that killers are judged and punished, or forgiven, by the courts, and not by the relatives of the victims. The reason individuals don’t go out and seek “revenge” themselves is specifically because we’re given this assurance by the state.
Mifsud claimed that the “amicable agreement” that had been reached between the family and the architects, reportedly including a financial settlement to compensate them for the loss of all their possessions, didn’t have anything to do with his decision to spare the two killers jail.
I don’t know the Pace family, but I do know that in very many cases, in Malta and abroad, the danger of accused criminals attempting to bully or influence victims or victims’ families is well-recognised and guarded against.
Of course the family was entitled to be compensated for the loss of their belongings, possessions they’d probably worked hard all their lives to acquire and treasure.
But to me, their statements that they didn’t want to see the architects go to jail and that they’d forgiven them, raise some very serious red flags. Forgiveness doesn’t cancel out the culprit’s debt to society, in any way. The fact that these statements of forgiveness were mentioned by the court, despite the magistrate’s assurance that they hadn’t been taken into account, is worrying in itself.
The family has every right to forgive the perpetrators if they so decide. We’re taught from an early age to forgive, and it’s admirable that they were able to do that. However, that should never inform or even influence in any way what the court decides. The crime committed by these two architects, in killing Miriam Pace, ripping apart her family and destroying their home, is not solely a crime against the Paces.
It’s also a crime against the whole of Maltese society. Each and every person living next door to a building site, their relatives and friends, are at risk of a similar tragedy befalling them. Unless the construction industry is sent a very strong message about zero tolerance from the state for those who contravene regulations, abandon standards and risk innocent people’s lives, there will be no improvement, no “lessons learnt,” no hope for the next victim.
And it’s crucial to remember that we should never “forgive” crimes for which we haven’t yet seen justice done. Forgiving criminals, of all types, before they’ve punished for their crimes means, effectively, condoning and enabling criminal behaviour.
Magistrate Mifsud attempted to justify his extraordinary sentencing of the two convicted killers, who were ordered to carry out 880 hours of community work between them and pay a risible fine of €18,000, by talking about seeking justice, not “revenge”.
Imprisonment for a crime is not revenge. This gaslighting tactic of describing society’s long-held and universally-supported penalty for crimes, jail time, as “revenge,” is sickening. It is even more revolting given the facts of this case: a woman slaughtered in her own home as a direct result of the carelessness, incompetence and greed of the men standing before Mifsud.
Going on that irresponsible remark, any criminal currently in prison would be justified in standing up and saying, hang on, am I here purely out of revenge?
If I say sorry, will you let me go? If I blackmail my victims into “forgiving” me, can I go home?
I am not, of course, suggesting that these two shameful architects or anyone else blackmailed their victim’s family into forgiving them. I have no way of knowing what happened between them. However, I know all too well how viciously abusive bullies can behave, and how they will stop at nothing to silence their victims.
I also found it bizarre in the extreme that Magistrate Mifsud felt compelled to include a disclaimer about the financial settlement between the Paces and the culprits. Why would he do that? The criminal courts are there to decide whether accused criminals are guilty or not and then to mete out the appropriate punishment to those that are. Any compensation or settlement in civil courts, or privately, should have no place at all in criminal proceedings, judgements or punishments.
As far as I know, we don’t acknowledge or accept private restitution for crimes as an alternative to court-ordained justice. In fact, victims are expressly prohibited from attempting to carry out any sort of retribution against their aggressors. Victims are told, go to the police and let them investigate, go to the courts and let them pass judgement and ultimately punish the wrongdoer.
Or are we now going to start flirting with Middle-Eastern-style eye-for-an-eye type justice? Because, of course, this type of arrangement is still common in communities in places such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the Yemen. A man gets murdered. His killers and family pay the relatives of the victim “blood money” and then they’re “forgiven” – the case often doesn’t even make it to court, as complaints are withdrawn and witnesses disperse, or the courts are informed that monetary compensation has been made and the matter ends there.
God forbid we ever regress to anything so primitive. Our Western justice systems may be flawed, but at least the principles on which they’re based are sound. Crimes against individuals are also crimes against society, which is why the authorities and the institutions are the only bodies permitted to decide on and dispense punishment.
Forgiveness is not justice. Community service as the main penalty for convicted killers is not justice. Allowing the culprits, who have already caused the death of an innocent woman, to retain their warrants and carry on working as architects is not justice. Their conviction is for involuntary homicide. It’s not first-degree murder, granted, because of course, they didn’t sit down and plan to murder Miriam Pace.
But when they decided to ignore safety rules, dismiss the fears of the residents around the building site, continue to use dangerous machinery in what to anyone else was obviously a catastrophe waiting to happen, it comes alarmingly close to deliberate murder.
They knew the site was adjacent to homes in which families lived. They knew the neighbours were alarmed about what might happen. They knew of the many previous incidents in which greedy and selfish contractors and their architects had destroyed other people’s houses, and caused the death of other innocent victims.
They knew this, and proceeded with their careless, shoddy and dangerous work anyway.
Community service, whether the family has “forgiven” the perpetrators or not, is not adequate punishment for slaying another person through negligence and greed. Equating the imposition of a just and appropriate sentence with “revenge” is dishonest and wrong. This sentence is an affront to the whole of Maltese society.