Revoking hefty administrative fines by Maltese Constitutional Courts has become a common occurrence, losing its novelty. In recent days, another judgment was delivered, this time involving Lombard Bank. This follows the judgment concerning Insignia Limited a few days before.

Once again, an administrative fine imposed by the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU) was deemed excessively heavy and consequently treated as a criminal matter. In my opinion, this is the correct legal reasoning because we adhere to the Engel criteria, which classify hefty administrative fines as pertaining to the criminal legal realm.

In the local context, the Constitution specifically stipulates that criminal offenses are to be handled exclusively by courts, rather than by public authorities established by law. Consequently, public authorities, such as the FIAU,  issuing hefty fines under the pretence of administrative actions are being considered as exceeding their legal authority.

It is foreseeable that the time will soon come for the Planning Authority, which issues daily fines that can reach up to €50,000. The Planning Authority may argue, and as their lawyer, I would do the same, that it is simply complying with the law and nothing more. Once the Planning Authority is challenged before the constitutional court for issuing hefty fines that are deemed criminal according to the Engel ruling, it is likely to experience a comparable outcome to that of the FIAU. At that point, the Planning Authority cannot insist that a permit for a site, on which daily fines have accumulated, cannot be issued unless the €50,000 fine is paid.