A 49-year-old former Gozitan priest, who was convicted of pedophilia four years ago and given a one-year suspended prison sentence for three years, was admitted last year by the University of Malta as a full-time law student despite his criminal record. for sexual abuse of a minor.
The acceptance by the University of Jesmond Gauci of Xaghra as a law student raised eyebrows at various administrators of the University, including the professors of the law course. It has also aroused the anger of many parents who have complained to university authorities about the “uncomfortable” and “dangerous” situation of having a known pedophile in daily contact with their children.
Gauci, convicted in 2017 after being convicted of violently assaulting a teenage girl, among other criminal acts, has been barred by the Ministry of Education from continuing his former role as a teacher in a public school and his tenure. teaching has been withdrawn.
Barely three years after his conviction, he is now enrolled at the University. While every individual has the right to an education, concerns center on the possibility that a convicted felon could defend others in court.
Under the university admission rules, students must present their police conduct certificate as part of the admission process. Yet conditional sentences generally do not appear on an individual’s driver’s certificate.
When asked if this was the case in Gauci’s admissions process, and to explain why a person convicted of sex crimes against minors was allowed to enroll in law school and therefore hang out with teenagers on a daily basis, a spokesperson for the University confirmed that all the students had to follow the same rules.
“Although the University does not comment on individual cases, all students applying to join the Faculty of Law are required to present a recent police conduct certificate upon admission,” the spokesperson told The Shift.
The spokesperson for the University distanced himself from the fact that, according to the law, the former priest can never obtain a mandate to practice the profession of lawyer because of his conviction.
“Students in the Faculty of Law must first complete their LL.B course before moving on to the M.Adv study program. The latter allows graduates to possibly apply for a mandate to practice law, provided they meet all the criteria established by law. The University only grants diplomas and not mandates, ”he said.
University courses are funded by taxpayers, even in the case of mature students who do not need all of the academic qualifications necessary to be admitted.
By law, those found guilty of a crime similar to that committed by the former priest are prohibited from being issued a warrant to exercise the law.
However, exceptions recently made by the Labor government could come into play, if and when Gauci reaches this stage.
The criminal conviction of the priest
In 2014, after a report from the then Bishop of Gozo, the 44-year-old priest from Xagħra was brought to justice and charged with committing obscene sexual acts with underage girls.
During a proceeding dominated by the testimonies of three teenage girls, their relatives and the accused himself, the story of a young and energetic priest with a “bubbly” personality emerged and seemed very friendly with the people. young women. According to one of the girls, the priest had the manners of a “boyfriend”.
One of the victims, 13 at the time, recalled how her first abusive experience with the priest was on board her parents’ boat when he stroked her breasts and touched her private parts while ‘she was lying inside the cabin, in a swimsuit and with her headphones on.
Another similar incident happened at a family barbecue the teenager attended when the priest was invited by her parents. The priest had tried to touch the teenager, and the mother had then noticed the inappropriate gesture.
The young girl had finally confided in her grandmother, who denounced the priest to the bishop.
Other girls recounted similar experiences, which occurred in the sacristy of the Church and during confession. However, in the latter cases, the court did not find the priest guilty due to conflicting evidence.
The priest was convicted of indecent assault on one of the teenagers and sentenced to one year in prison, suspended for three.
The dangerous precedent of the mandate
While Gauci is still about three years away from having the opportunity to apply for a legal mandate, as he is now in his second year of law school, legal sources told The Shift that although his conviction means that ‘he does not have the right to hold a warrant, a dangerous precedent has been set in another case, and this could possibly be used to “interpret the law” in favor of the former priest.
In 2018, then-Justice Minister Owen Bonnici granted a controversial tenure to two young lawyers despite the fact that they both had criminal records.
The warrants were given to Thomas Sant and Yanica Barbara – also considered politically close to those in power – although they were previously convicted of theft and forgery of documents.
Their tenure was cleared by the examiners – four sitting judges – over the objections of the then chief justice and the Chamber of Advocates.
It appeared that the police conduct certificate presented by the two law students did not include previous criminal convictions, as these are normally removed after a short period of time. The judges did not take the full criminal certificate into account when making their decision.
According to the Code of Organization and Civil Procedure, “no one has the right to obtain the mandate if he is not of good conduct and morality”.
Detailed image: Jesmond Gauci, former priest and convicted pedophile, now a second year law student at the University of Malta