|The Criminal Court is the only court which permits the public to participate directly in the administration of justice through trials by jury.
Technically any person who is charged with an offence carrying a punishment exceeding six months imprisonment can end up before the Criminal Court. In practice, however, the vast majority of persons charged with an offence carrying a punishment exceeding six months but not exceeding ten years imprisonment opt to be tried by the Court of Magistrates. Persons charged with an offence carrying a punishment exceeding ten years imprisonment must be tried by the Criminal Court.
Proceedings before the Criminal Court begin when the Attorney General files the Bill of Indictment. This document is based on the evidence collected by the Court of Magistrates in the course of the compilation of evidence (committal proceedings). A Judge sits alone in the Criminal Court for the determination of preliminary pleas and pleas as to the admissibility of evidence; but for the determination of whether the accused is guilty or otherwise of the charge or charges brought against him by the Attorney General, the Criminal Court is composed of a Judge and a jury of nine persons. In a trial by jury the Judge determines all questions of law, including such matters as the admissibility and the relevance of evidence and of questions, as well as all matters relative to the conduct of the hearing; but the decision as to whether the accused is guilty or not is a matter for the jury. One of the most important functions of the Judge in a trial by jury is the summing-up, when the Judge addresses the jury explaining to them the ingredients of the offence or offences with which the accused is charged, and sums up the evidence in such a way as to enable the jury to determine whether they are satisfied beyond reasonable doubt of the guilt of the accused. Unlike what happens in some continental jurisdictions, when the jurors retire to consider their verdict they do so without the Judge being present. The jury may return either a unanimous verdict or a qualified verdict. A qualified verdict, whether in favour of or against the accused, must have the concurrence of at least six votes – that is to say, the minimum acceptable verdict is a 6-3 verdict. However there are some issues, such as the determination of whether the accused was sane or otherwise at the time of the commission of the offence, where a simple 5-4 majority verdict is acceptable at law.
Jurors do not give reasons for their verdict. If the verdict is one of guilt, the Judge proceeds to sentence the person found guilty in the absence of the jury.
Other than when the punishment prescribed by law for the offence with which a person stands charged is that of life imprisonment, the accused may opt to be tried by the Judge alone without a jury. This option is very seldom resorted to.
The Criminal Court is also the court where a number of collateral proceedings take place. For these proceedings the court is composed of a Judge sitting alone, that is without a jury. These proceedings include
The Judges ordinarily sitting (separately) in the Criminal Court are the Hon. Mr Justice Michael Mallia and the Hon. Mr Justice Lawrence Quintano. However collateral proceedings are also dealt with by the Chief Justice and by the Hon. Mr Justice David Scicluna.
- applications for bail in those cases where the Court of Magistrates is not competent to deal with such applications;
- review of decisions of the Court of Magistrates concerning an alleged unlawful detention of a person;
- review of decisions of the Court of Magistrates in connection with the granting of bail;
- the review of decisions of the Court of Magistrates allowing or dismissing a request for an order against the Commissioner of Police to commence criminal proceedings against a third party;
- the review of decisions of the Court of Magistrates (as a Court of Criminal Inquiry) that there are not sufficient grounds for a Bill of Indictment to be filed;
- applications under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (Cap. 373) and related legislation for the issue of investigation and attachment orders; and
- applications under the Probation Act (Cap. 446) regarding alleged breaches of the conditions of a probation order, a community service order or a combination order.