A video of a warden fining a motorist with a €104.82 ticket for “obstructing or inconveniencing the public” has made the rounds on social media, and has led many people to ask the simple question: is it legal to film a policeman or warden going about their duties?
The video shows a driver receiving a ticket for parking illegally. When he got out of his car to film what was happening, he was informed he will be receiving another ticket “of 100 euros” due to “obstruction”.
Many pointed out that this seems like an abuse of power, a threat of a fine to be used to silence those who want to film events for later transparency.
Is it legal to film wardens?
It is not illegal to film a Maltese public officer – policemen or wardens – as they go about their duties.
However, public officers have the option of fining – or even arresting – Maltese citizens if they are seen to be obstructing the officers, distracting the officers from their duties, or even disregarding an officer’s instructions.
The officer might have a hard time later defending his actions and supplying a proper justification for issuing an “obstruction” fine, but he does have the power to issue the fine.
Also, the Local Enforcement System website does not list “obstruction” or disobeying warden’s orders as one of the possible reasons to receive a contravention.
The Criminal Code does allow officers to arrest a citizen if they are seen to be “disobeying police orders”
Is it legal to film police officers?
Similarly, a representative from Birdlife Malta, Rupert Masefield, was arrested back in 2014, and was told by the police that he was being arrested “for filming us”. He was released hours later without any charges. They later said he was being investigated for the possession of an illegal bird.
During the encounter where Rupert was arrested, the officers were recorded threatening the Birdlife representatives, telling them they will “take their cameras and all recording equipment”. They eventually arrested him after telling him “we told you three times”.
Once again, there is no law that forbids the recording of a policeman as he goes about his duty. However, the Criminal Code does allow officers to arrest a citizen if they are seen to be “disobeying police orders”.
Anyone who “disobeys the lawful orders of any authority or of any person entrusted with a public service, or hinders or obstructs such person in the exercise of his duties, or otherwise unduly interferes with the exercise of such duties” is liable to be arrested or fined.
The Criminal Code also states that police can arrest people who are caught in the act of committing a criminal offence, which is vague enough to be applied in certain cases as well.
It is not illegal to film wardens or police officers. It is however in the remit of public officers to issue contraventions or even arrest people they deem as acting in an obstructive manner, or even disregarding their orders. If a recipient of such a contravention were to contest it, he would find that he has a good chance of winning his case as long as he didn’t overtly obstruct the public officer and acted in a calm, respectful manner.
Public officers can abuse this power, and Maltese people should not be afraid of whipping out their phones to record a public officer they feel is acting abusive or against the law – while that officer might try to threaten you with a fine, in the long term the law will most probably fall on your side.
Questions sent to the Justice Department about the legality of filming public officers going about their duties have been left unanswered at this time.