Photo: REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi

I am not a lawyer. I do have academic qualifications in maritime law. I am a published author on the subject and I lecture both locally and overseas. Now that’s out of the way, let’s tell some truths.

I have no idea what happened aboard the El Hiblu in late March 2019, I was not there nor have I followed the detailed testimony in court. To be frank, I don’t really care. What I care about is the fact that the Government of Malta has overstepped its bounds and is launching legal action against persons without having jurisdiction over the alleged acts.

The three persons accused in this case have been accused of terrorism charges as covered by Articles 328A to 328MA of the Criminal Code. For a person to be charged with offences under this Code, they must be under the jurisdiction of the Maltese Courts as described in Article 5 of the same Code. In summary, this Article requires that the accused have committed their crime in the territory of Malta (including the territorial seas), aboard a vessel with a Maltese flag, an aircraft registered in Malta or in our airspace, in some cases where the person is a citizen or permanent resident of Malta, an act outside the territory involving an explosive device or firearm, an act against a diplomatic agent or representation of Malta and a couple of other specific exceptions. None of these apply in this case.

Some specific crimes attract special jurisdiction beyond Article 5. One example would be the act of piracy (Art. 328N) which attracts universal jurisdiction thanks to international law. There are some exceptions that apply to terrorist acts and these are defined in Art. 328M. Again, none of them apply to the case in question.

So, the issue at the heart of this legal spectacle is not whether the acts committed that day warrant an accusation of terrorism. It is absolutely irrelevant that these three young men were perhaps just seeking a better and safer life. It is equally irrelevant that NGOs, IGOs, political and religious leaders have called for clemency. All of that is just background noise.

What is relevant is that the AG has decided to proceed with a case over which the Courts of Malta have no jurisdiction. That should be of concern to everyone.