ELSA Malta meets Minister of Justice & Culture to Discuss Recently Launched Policy Paper

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In the past week ELSA MALTA released a social policy paper regarding Pornography & the Vilification of Religion, currently being discussed in Parliament

ELSA Malta’s policy paper, ‘Pornography and Vilification of Religion Law Advancement and Policy Consideration’ aims at gathering all the information on such topics in light of the recently proposed amendments of Bill 113 of 2015. This bill proposes a repeal of articles 163 and 164 of the criminal code thus eliminating the offence of vilification for any religion in Malta as well as a reduction in punishment for article 165 dealing with the disturbance of a religious function. On the other hand, with regards to pornography, the law will cater for the opening of sex shops, the punishing of revenge porn and extreme porn.

In a meeting this morning with the Hon. Minister Dr. Owen Bonnici, we discussed the draft bill regarding this matter and also put forward our ideas to better the proposed law. ELSA Malta remains committed to contributing ideas and research when different controversial topics and issues are being discussed on a national level. This is what it really means to be pro-active in social policy.

Our main aim is that of educating and giving an unbiased review on the implications of the establishment of such a law in the Maltese legal system. ‘Pornography and Vilification of Religion Law Advancement and Policy Consideration’ tries to find a balance between freedom of expression and religion. This was done primarily by going back to the roots of both topics. It discusses and compares the law as it currently stands as opposed to the law as would be after the implementation of Bill 113. Furthermore, a comparative overview is given, making comparison to certain member states in the European Union such as the Netherlands, the UK and most importantly giving sufficient weight to what the European Union (EU) has to say with reference to cases from the European Court of Human Rights (EtCHR). It became evident that many countries in the EU have already made this ‘step’, towards a more liberal state, where freedom of expression has no limits. This became particularly important and of utmost concern due to recent terrorist attacks.

Pornography is a topic, which generates a lot of controversy, particularly arising from the Church in Malta. The Church has always been influential and opinionated, especially when dealing with such delicate matters. It is understandable that the church would not agree with the opening of ‘sex shops’ in Malta and why it would deem them to be immoral. In fact, this is one of the various aspects that our policy paper caters for. However, it does not only capture one side of the picture, but argues from both sides, taking under consideration the opinions of various legal experts as well case law.

One of the reasons why ELSA Malta decided to take on such topics is due to the fact that it felt that there needed to be an unbiased opinion, based on research which encapsulates both sides of the story and give views on what it deems to be in the best interest for the Maltese population. This was specifically catered for in a particular section entitled ‘Suggestions to Parliament’, in which we voiced our opinions on the Bill and the further improvements that could be made.

Such improvements include: the amendment of Article 165 in order to distinguish between what is to be considered as ‘serious danger’ and what does not fall under such category. If falling under ‘serious danger’ punishment is aggravated, more than that which is stipulated in the Bill. Also, we propose to ensure that there is strict enforcement of Article 82A and Article 165 since after such amendments, these articles would be shouldering the burden and ensuring that the right of worship is safeguarded. As for pornography, to regulate the topic in such a way so that minorities and the general public, especially minors remain protected. We believe that this topic is one which must be legislated upon since through such amendments, there would be regulation on certain aspects which are already deemed to be unacceptable but not punishable such as that of ‘revenge porn’.

‘Pornography and Vilification of Religion Law Advancement and Policy Consideration’ is a policy paper by ELSA Malta’s Legal and Social Policy Organising Committee, involving Erika Taliana, leader and editor of the policy paper, and the rest of the team, John Caruana, Nicole Portelli, Maria Magro, Aleksander Belugi and Anne Farrugia. The Organising Committee is directed by Nick Debono and Nicole Sultana, Director of Legal & Social Policy and Director of Legal Publications, respectively.

A copy of the Policy Paper could be found here or on ELSA Malta’s Facebook page.