The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Malta is a state party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 21 governs the right of peaceful assembly, providing that:
The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Malta is also a state party to the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which allows individuals to petition the Human Rights Committee if they believe the state has violated their human rights as protected under the Covenant.
At regional level, Malta is a state party to the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights. Article 11 governs freedom of assembly and association:
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
2. No restrictions shall be placed on the exercise of these rights other than such as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. This Article shall not prevent the imposition of lawful restrictions on the exercise of these rights by members of the armed forces, of the police or of the administration of the State.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Under Article 42(1) of the 1964 Constitution of Malta: "Except with his own consent or by way of parental discipline no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of peaceful assembly and association..."
(2) Nothing contained in or done under the authority of any law shall be held to be inconsistent with or in contravention of this article to the extent that the law in question makes provision -
(a) that is reasonably required -
(i) in the interests of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or decency, or public health; or
(ii) for the purpose of protecting the rights or freedoms of other persons...
and except so far as that provision or, as the case may be, the thing done under the authority thereof is shown not to be reasonably justifiable in a democratic society.
(3) For the purposes of this article, any provision in any law prohibiting the holding of public meetings or demonstrations in any one or more particular cities, towns, suburbs or villages shall be held to be a provision which is not reasonably justifiable in a democratic society.
The primary legislation governing assembly in Malta is the 1931 Public Meetings Ordinance (as amended).
The Ordinance requires that advance notice of 48 hours be given for a public assembly.
The Legal Framework on Use of Force During Assemblies
The Use of Force
International Legal Rules
Under international law, the duty on the state and its law enforcement agencies is to facilitate the enjoyment of the right of peaceful assembly. According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials:
In the dispersal of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.
All force used by police and other law enforcement agencies must be necessary for a legitimate law enforcement purpose and proportionate to that purpose.
Article 76 of the 2017 Police Act stipulates that the use of force "is a remedy of last resort and shall only be used for the duration that is strictly necessary when it is evident that all other remedies would be of no avail."
The Use of Firearms
International Legal Rules
According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles, in the dispersal of violent assemblies, a law enforcement official may only use a firearm against a specific individual where this is necessary to confront an imminent threat of death or serious injury or a grave and proximate threat to life.
In exceptional circumstances the Police Force "may, in the execution of its duties, use firearms and other offensive weapons or materials".Art. 78(1), 2017 Police Act.Such exceptional circumstances are when their use "becomes inevitable to preserve the life of a police officer or of others, or to avert an imminent danger of widespread violence".Art. 78(2), 2017 Police Act.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
In its 2014 Concluding Observations on Malta, the Human Rights Committee did not address the right of peaceful assembly. The 2018 Universal Periodic Review of Malta under the UN Human Rights Council also did not address the right of peaceful assembly.
The European Court of Human Rights has not found a violation of the right of peaceful assembly by Malta.
Views of Civil Society
According to CIVICUS's 2016 report on Malta:
Malta’s constitution protects the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, a right which is largely implemented by the authorities in practice. However there is concern at the police’s alleged use of excessive force to quell demonstrations by migrants in detention centres protesting to call attention to ill treatment and other concerns. A protest in March 2016 also sought to bring attention to the trend of discrimination, hate speech and physical attacks experienced by migrants in Malta. Other recent protests in Malta have included those on proposed restrictions to the morning-after pill, tensions between religious communities, and perceived ‘rampant overdevelopment’ in some parts of the country.