The Inquiring Magistrate only formed part of the Maltese Judiciary since 1812, when, by virtue of a Notification issued on the 24th July, 1812, the British Crown decided to shift certain powers that were then exercised by the Giudice Criminale della Gran Corte della Castellania and the Castellano to a newly created office of Magistrate. Today, however, the office of this Magistrate remains more or less the same with a few amendments that took place over the years as will be outlined in this paper.
Under the Municipal Code of the Knights of St. John, the Giudice Criminale della Gran Corte della Castellania and the Castellano carried out the same three main functions which are exercised by the sitting Magistrate today. Namely, he carried out criminal inquiries, presided over compilation of evidence for those cases which do not always fall within its competence, and thus prepare the case for trial before the Criminal Court, and he would also sit in judgment over those criminal cases which fall within its competence, whether original or extended. In the latter eventuality, the consent of the Attorney General together with the consent of the accused would be required for judgment to be pronounced by the Magistrate.
It is to be noted, however, that a number of cases that were dealt with by this Judge were different in nature to the ones that are investigated today, since back then certain sophisticated crimes, such as those of money laundering or other financial crimes, did not feature in any legislative act. He still, however, had the power to nominate experts to help him in the investigation and receive their reports once finalized. Such reports could not be impugned by the Defence unless the Prosecutor was in agreement. It could only be reviewed by other experts unspecified in number, though by custom, such number had to be odd.
This Judge carried out personally the accessi on site inspection on the crime scene:
e procurerà di usare tutte le possibili diligenze tantoper verificare il corpo del delitto, di qualche specie fosse, come rispetto alla scoperta dei delinquenti, e metterà tutto in chiaro.
By Proclamation XXII dated 1st July, 1814, the powers of the inquiry entrusted to the Giudice Criminale della Gran Corte della Castellania were transferred to the Magistrate, who used to sit in the inferior courts of Magistrates of the Judicial Police. The Magistrate continues to exercise all three powers mentioned earlier on, however with a much lower competence, enough to say that criminals back then were brought before the Criminal Court with a jury for crimes that exceeded three months imprisonment in punishment.
This brings us to discuss one of the three functions that are exercised by the Magistrate today, namely the investigative function, in particular the holding of inquiries, the in genere. The magistrates have investigative powers, but certainly are not the default investigators. They cannot start an investigation ex officio, but can only do so once they receive a notizie criminis from the police or a private citizen. They are to take all immediate measures to preserve the crime scene by nominating the relevant experts, including the forensic ones. The aim for a criminal inquiry is not to find out who is to be prosecuted for the crime under investigation or to establish guilt, but to preserve all the evidence which would then be brought forward before a Court of Law once a person is arraigned in court and faces prosecution.
In fact, in the judgment in the names Repubblika ta’ Malta vs Jason Calleja, the following was held:
‘Stabbilit illi l-Maġistrat fl-inkjesti ma jaġixxix bħala Qorti Istruttorja, x’inhija allura l-funzjoni tiegħu? M’hemmx dubju li l-ewwel konklużjoni hija illi fl-inkjesta huwa anqas ma għandu funzjoni ta’ Qorti ta’ Ġudikatura Kriminali. Ċertament huwa persuna intiża mil-liġi stess bħala ta’ importanza fondamentali fil-proċess tar-riċerkagħall-verita’, iħda l-Maġistrat Inkwirenti m’għandux il-funzjoni li jistabilixxi l-ħtija jew l-innoċenza ta’ xi persuna, indizjata jew mhijiex.
In linea generali, il-Maġistrat Inkwirenti hu fdat lilu l-inkarigu li fil-każijiet previsti mill-istess Titolu, jinvestiga r-reat jew il-fatt rapportat lilu u/jew iżomm l-aċċess li l-liċi tipprevedi u fl-aħħar nett jirrediġi proċess verbali li l-liġi stess tirregola u tattribwilu valur probatorju. Dan kollu jifforma parti integrali mill-proċess ċenerali tar-riċerka tal-verita’ u jikkonsisti prinċipalment fil-ġbir u preġervazzjoni ta’ dawk il-provi kollha, diretti u indiretti, li l-Maġistrat Inkwirenti jirnexxilu jiddentifika bħala pertinenti għal grajja jew reat li jkun qed jinvestiga. Bħala tali, u kuntrarjament għal dak li jiġri f’ċerti sistemi kontinentali, l-Maġistrat Inkwirenti mhux parti millpulizija u wisq inqas, mill-prosekuzzjoni; anzi jidher ċar li fis-sistema tagħna huwa previst biex f’numru ta’ każijiet serji li l-liġi stess tispeċifika, l-investigazzjoni ma ssirx biss, u l-provi ma jinġabrux u ma jiġux preżervati biss mill-Pulizija, iżda ukoll, anzi essenzjalment, minn persuni indipendenti mill-poter esekuttiv tal-Istat u li jiggarantixxu li r-riċerka tal-verita’ ma tkunx inkwinata minn xi interessi hlief dak suprem li kollox isir skond il-ħaqq u l-ġustizzja. Rwol dan, li Lord Tucker, fl-appell quddiem il-Privy Council in re Regina vs George Terreni, obiter, iddeskriva bhala ‘a good way of preserving evidence’.
The learned Judge went on to say that:
‘s’intendi erti deċiċjonijiet, il-Maġistrat Inkwirenti bilfors joħodhom, anzi, jista’ jiġi affermat li mingħajr tali ezerċizzju ta’ din il-funzjoni, fl-uffiċċju tiegħu f’diversi kaħijiet jisfa’ bla sens. Hekk, per eżempju, f’każijiet ta’ mewt rapportati lilu, huwa għandu jindaga ċ-ċirkostanzili wasslu ghal dik il-mewt u jistabbilixxi hiex aktarx jew ċertament waħda aċċidentali u indipendenti minn kull ħtija doluża jew kolpuza ta’ terzi jew inkella hiex proprju ir-riżultat ta’ tali komportament ta’ terzi. L-istess jingħad għal każijiet fejn jiġu rapportati lilu eventi li prima facie ikunu jippreżentaw sembjanzi ta’ reat. Hi ċertament l-funzjoni tal-Maġistrat Inkwirenti li jinvestiga, okkorrendo permezz ta’ esperti, ċ-ċirkostanzi kollha tal-każ u jipprova jasal għal konklużjoni dwar jekk verament sarx reat u jekk hemmx provi tali li jippuntaw lejn xi ħadd partikolari li jista’ jiġi investigat ulterjorment jew addirittura akkuzat. Ċertament m’hix il-funzjoni tal- Maġistrat Inkwirenti li jiddeċiedi li għar-reat investigat minnu huwa ċertament jew probabbilment responsabbli xi ħadd partikolari, għax kif ingħad huwa ma jaġixxix ta’ Qorti, la ta’ Istruttorja u inqas ta’ Ġudikatura. Iżda hija ċertament il-funzjoni tiegħu li jiddeċiedi l-ewwel hemmx provi suffiċjenti li verament sar reat u t-tieni jekk a bażi tal-provi – indipendentement millapprezzament taghħom – hemmx biżżejjed biex jingħad li xi ħadd partikolari jista’ possibilment ikun passibbli għal proċeduri kriminali. Dan mhux biss jikkostitwixxi funzjoni tal-Maġistrat Inkwerenti, iżda, fil-fehma ta’ din il-Qorti huwa addirittura dover tiegħu’.
This was emphasised by the Sitting Judge in that same judgment.
This brings us to what exactly is the function of the Inquiring Magistrate and how his role is regulated. It is to be pointed out at the onset of this paper that there is no court for the inquiry relating to an in genere. The Inquiry is carried out by the Magistrate acting in his/her individual capacity. Thus, the inquiry is conducted by the Magistrate in persona. We have no accused person before the inquiring Magistrate, although we may have a suspect in an inquiry. Since the Magistrate who conducts the inquiry has an investigating role, they cannot be summoned to give evidence in a ħourt of ħaw. In the case in the names Nazzareno sive Reno Mercieca v. Onorevoli Prim Ministru bhala rappresentant tal-Gvern ta’ Malta u Avukat Ġenerali, the Court held that:
‘Għalkemm fl-inkjesta dwar l-in genere il-Maġistrat jaġixxi aktar ta’ investigatur milli ta’ ġudikant, huwa jibqa’ awtorita` ġudizzjarja, u huwa proprju minħabba huwa awtorita` ġudizzjarja li l-opinjoni prevalenti (ibbażata anke fuq diżpożizzjoni tal-Kodiċi Kriminali, kif ser naraw) kienet sa issa li huwa ma jistax jiġi prodott bħala xhud, sia mill-prosekuzzjoni kif ukoll mid-difiża biex jixhed fuq xi ħaġa li tkun tirriżulta mill-istess proces-verbal. Dan ma jfissirx, pero`, li l-proces-verbal li jinġieb mill-prosekuzzjoni bħala prova, u l-atti annessi miegħu, huma neċessarjament ammissibbli fit-totalita` tagħhom. Mhix inkonċepibbli sitwazzjoni fejn il-procesverbal jew parti minnu, jew xi att 6 Paras. 15-114, 15-115, paġna 465. anness miegħu, jiġi, għal raġuni valida skond il-liġi, dikjarat inammissibbli jew mhux ammissibbli għal xi skop partikolari li għalih parti jew oħra tkun trid tipproduċih’.
The prerequisites for an investigation regarding the in genere are found in Article 546 of the Criminal Code, which provides the following:
‘(1) Saving the provisions of the next following sub articles, upon the receipt of any report, information or complaint in regard to any offence liable to the punishment of imprisonment exceeding three years, and if the subject-matter of the offence still exists, the state thereof, with each and every particular, shall be described, and the instrument, as well as the manner in which such instrument may have produced the effect, shall be indicated. For the purpose of any such investigation, an inquest on the spot shall be held’:
Therefore, three conditions must concur simultaneously for the inquiry relating to the in genere to be held:
• There must be a report, information or complaint. The Magistrate cannot commence an inquiry relating to the in genere on his own initiative. In the vast majority of cases, the Magistrate acts upon a report by a police officer, but the law does not only mention a report, but also information and complaint.
• It must be an offence liable to punishment of imprisonment exceeding three years. Although this provision refers to an ‘offence’, Section 551 oF the Criminal Code provides that an inquest shall be held, for example, in cases of suspicious deaths (e.g. cases of suicide where there is no offence, but an inquest should still be held).
• The subject matter of the offence must still exist. The law is referring to something tangible (e.g. broken apertures or traces of blood). The offence in itself must be one that leaves material traces. Thus, for example, in the case of perjury, there is nothing to preserve even though its punishment exceeds three years, and therefore no inquiry can be held.
However, the law also provides that failure to investigate shall not prejudice proceedings. Where it results that the fact in respect of which an investigation was not held, even though it constituted an offence liable to the punishment already mentioned, that reason alone shall not prejudice the institution or continuation of criminal proceedings for that offence or the admissibility of any evidence of that offence in those proceedings. This is to say that if an inquiry is not held, the probative value of that evidence is unaffected.
Act XXIII of 2005 further provided that the holding of an inquest may be dispensed with by the magistrate to whom the report, information or complaint is made, if the fact to be investigated is breaking and if the theft to which the breaking relates or may relate is in respect of things whose value does not exceed €23.29, although it may be still aggravated by other means, even if the fact is likely to constitute an offence liable to the punishment of imprisonment exceeding three years.
However, the decision of a magistrate not to hold an inquest in this scenario shall not preclude the institution or continuation of criminal proceedings for an offence, and neither would it exclude the investigation which the police can carry out on their own accord.
The officer so appointed and any photographer or other expert assisting him shall give evidence at the inquiry on the facts investigated and established by them and shall produce all photographs taken and all other articles or documents relevant to their investigation.
The report, the information or the complaint may initially be given verbally before the Magistrate. However, it would have to be laid in writing before the Magistrate within the period of two working days from the day on which they were given verbally: These time frames are not always adhered to and this means that the staff of the Magistrate conducting the inquiry would have to pursue such verbal requests thoroughly. However, the Magistrate will not be precluded from carrying on with the inquiry relating to the in genere if such time frame is not adhered to. What is important is the proper preservation of the traces of the offence.
References:  Diritto Municipale di Malta, Libro Primo Cap Terzo, f.V.VI, p 28,29.  Delivered by the Court of Appeal on the 3rd July 1997.  Decided by the Constitutional Court on the 15th February 2005.  Article 546(1) of the Criminal Code of Malta.  Article 9 of Act XXIII of 2005 provided that Article 546 of the Code would be amended so that, immediately after the words ‘in those proceedings’ there shall be added the following proviso: ‘Provided further that notwithstanding any other provision when an offence under investigation consists in theft of electricity or an offence under items (c), (e) and (f) of sub article (1) of Article 326 there shall be no inquest unless expressly requested by Enemalta.’.  Section 546 (2) of the Criminal Code.  Section 546 (2) of the Criminal Code.  Section 546 (3) of the Criminal Code.  Section 546 (4) of the Criminal Code introduced by Act XXIX of 1990.