A night of insight into potential future legislation changes with GhSL


Last night’s CyberCrime, Surrogacy and Legalisation of Marijuana debates, organised by GhSL and covered by Insite, offered an audience insight into what potential future legislation will look like in the face of all three issues. For CyberCrime it was a highlighting of the need to work on procedural legislation to better equip the law courts; the Marijuana debate discussed restriction to anyone under 21, as well as zero tolerance policies for people driving under the influence; and finally advice to look back at the basics of what are the rights of the mother and the child during the Surrogacy debate. These debates were part of Science In The City taking place in Hastings Gardens.

Image: Katrina Xuereb

The CyberCrime debate saw Police Inspector Timothy Zammit from the Cyber Crime Unit; Dr Alistair Facciol, a lawyer specialising in the field; and Dr Carl Brincat, a Senior Legal Advisor at the Malta Gaming Authority on the panel.

Insp. Zammit took a look at misconceptions about technology and the fear that new types of criminal activity as well as alterations of old ones. The two types of Cyber Crime are traditional crimes like fraud or identity theft, and new types of crimes such as hacking. Legal procedures are still unfortunately relying on traditional legislation while it is difficult to quantify certain online things like the value of online information. The problems aren’t inherently within technology, and people need not fear trying new technology. The Cyber Crime Unit is primarily there to educate people in proper use of relatively new technological advances in order to ensure maximum use with minimal danger. People need to pay special attention when it comes to social media, the Inspector insisted, considering that whatever is out there is essentially uncontrollable at the point of dissemination.

Image: Katrina Xuereb

Dr Facciol kicked off the debate by saying that there is an automatic connotation of greater potential for harm due to the anonymity inherent within the internet. Many of the crimes have always been with us, it’s just that with better technology, the problems gained more importance. Despite procedural issues in the law, the law does cater for the crimes themselves with two specific articles, 337c and 337d regarding the misuse of information and the misuse of hardware respectively which were adopted in 2002. Although the sentence is always up to the court’s discretion, there are guidelines in terms of fines of around €60,000 and four years in prison which, when aggravated can skyrocket to roughly €116,000 and a 10 year maximum prison sentence. Basic things people can do to be safer include changing passwords every so often and to monitor email accounts and notifications; while large companies should make sure that data storage safety is paramount, as well as making sure that employment contracts are well-drafted enough to be used in court in the case of illegalities by employees.

Dr Brincat explained the clear problem that Cyber Crime has in the gaming industry considering the vast majority is all online and it ends up undermining society’s faith in the online gaming services. What the Malta Gaming Authority seal of approval means is that gaming companies would have been vetted and helped in the case of needing investigations. Said investigations will go to the police, but quality control and assurance are in the hands of the Authority. Dr Brincat’s final message was to “trust the system, but take precautions”, specifically mentioning the ill-advised new trend of posting photos of boarding passes on social media.

Image: Katrina Xuereb

Next there was the Legalisation of Marijuana debate, which was the best attended debate of the night and had the largest panel. Namely, Parliamentary Secretary for Reforms, Citizenship and Simplification of Administrative Processes Hon. Ms Julia Farrugia Portelli; Nationalist MP and member of the Family Affairs Committee Hon. Mr Clyde Puli; Alternattiva Demokratika Spokesperson Mr Ralph Cassar; and Pain Management Specialist Dr Andrew Agius.

Ms Farrugia Portelli made it abundantly and repeatedly clear that she has never done drugs herself, but does not consider herself better than those who do. This being said, a great amount of consideration was given to children especially since she has her four-year-old daughter to shelter from the harmful clutches of drug abuse. The politician spoke of zero tolerance and the need to further address the problems with synthetic drugs while ensuring that the debate will happen once consultation with experts and the public take place. Potential systems in place in the case of legalisation include a monthly cap on purchasable amount or a restriction from buying cannabis and alcohol at the same time, with a strong focus on educational campaigns.

Mr Clyde Puli preferred not to jump to conclusions and ideas when it came to recreational use insisting repeatedly that Caritas’ statements of cannabis being a gateway drug must be taken into serious consideration. Regarding medical marijuana, it should be up to the Medicine’s Authority to decide whether or not the risks outweigh the rewards also. Shutting down a couple of often-used arguments, Mr Puli heavily emphasised that the issue is not to be regarded as one of moral panic, but of what kind of society we want to have, adding that the idea that we allow tobacco and alcohol in the country should not automatically result in the same for cannabis.

Image: Katrina Xuereb

Mr Ralph Cassar’s main point throughout the night in favour of regularising the recreational use of cannabis was that it was a waste of public resources to put victim through the legal system citing progress in Portugal, which now focuses on rehabilitation and does not punish users. He added that there is no moral uproar or national debate every village feast with hordes of people clearly inebriated galivanting in the street. In terms of potential legislation, Mr Cassar insisted that people should be allowed to grow their own plants, or get cannabis from registered and controlled dispensaries.

Dr Andrew Agius, the only medical expert on the panel, was a clear advocate for the effects of medical cannabis use. He spoke of a complex cannabinoid system that was only discovered in the early 1990s and was never really made part of any syllabus for medical students, therefore there is a vast lack of knowledge on the benefits of cannabinoids, particularly CPD-concentrated oils that can boost the immune system and actually make a person stronger in the long run, as long as dosage is controlled. THC, the other component in cannabis products, can be used to manage pain and effects of a number of ailments such as epilepsy, but the risks of taking more than the recommended amount on a regular basis might result in adverse effects to medical health, especially in the 1% of people susceptible to schizophrenia.

Image: Katrina Xuereb

The third and final debate run by GhSL was the Surrogacy debate which included as panellists, psychologist and training consultant Ms Cher V. Laurenti Engerer; lawyer with specific interest in Family and Child Law Dr Ann Marie Mangion; and Gynaecologist specialising in infertility and in vitro fertilisation Dr Mark Sant.

Dr Sant kicked off the debate by pointing out the definition of surrogacy being when someone has to do the function of someone else. He was very adamant that Malta has a long way to go in terms of legislation to reflect situations of surrogacy insisting that first there needs to be a clear definition of the rights of the mother and the rights of the child during pregnancy and birth, which is not exactly crystal clear at the moment. Dr Sant outlines the increased risks of a fetus being rejected by the surrogate mother’s body since it is carrying other people’s genes, but also pointed out that in certain cases, surrogacy is considerably safer than a natural pregnancy in the case of certain illnesses such as congenital heart problems.

Image: Katrina Xuereb

Dr Mangion outlined how it works in England and Greece to illustrate potential avenues for future legislation since currently, in Malta, surrogacy is illegal and therefore unregulated. The English system allows it to be done as long as not in exchange for payment which ends up with an unenforceable contract in the case of the birth-mother wanting to keep the child, while in Greece the parents have complete control over the child in another woman’s body from the moment of conception. The important thing when thinking about surrogacy laws is to ensure that babies do not become commodified and that women do not end up oppressed.

Ms Laurenti Engerer saw nothing but positives from the psychological perspective as long as there are no underlying issues prior to surrogacy. Usually people are motivated by a lot of factors including a desire to do good in their community, particularly with friends and family. Potential surrogates still need to be psychologically vetted, however trends show that mothers who do it once tend to opt to do it again, some even describing it as an addiction. When it comes to the parents, it is generally always a positive experience, but obviously with failure comes disappointment.

Written by

Mathias Mallia

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