A Gozitan father charged with drug trafficking and freed from custody on health grounds following an unprecedented decision by Malta’s Cabinet had his rights breached multiple times in the way his case was handled, a court has ruled.
Christopher Bartolo, who suffers from kidney disease, was released from prison in February 2018 after Cabinet decided that he deserved to be given bail on humanitarian grounds in an extraordinary decision.
Prior to his release, Bartolo had spent over a year in prison, despite appeals from across Maltese society for his release on compassionate grounds.
Bartolo had been arrested at his home in Gozo after being found carrying 167g of cannabis resin. However, the mishandling of his case, especially in light of how medically vulnerable he is, had raised concern.
Among other things, Bartolo had been picked up outside Mater Dei right after a five hour dialysis session and interrogated by police without a lawyer present.
In a decision handed down yesterday, Judge Toni Abela, presiding over the First Hall of the Civil Court found that Bartolo had indeed been discriminated against.
Watch Christopher Bartolo speak on his first day out of prison.
In his court application, Bartolo, through his lawyer Franco Debono, pointed to five main issues they said showed that he had been discriminated against.
In the first issue raised, Bartolo drew comparisons between his case and that of Brian Vella, who like Bartolo, had had his statement taken by the police without a lawyer present. The courts had found Vella’s statement to be inadmissible in court, ordering proceedings to be restarted.
In Bartolo’s case, while the statement was also deemed to be inadmissible, there was no order for proceedings to start afresh.
The court found that Bartolo’s rights had been breached in this regard, ordering that Bartolo be granted a similar remedy to that granted to Vella.
Bartolo also argued that the case against him had been based mainly on statements he had given to the police without a lawyer present, as well as that, Bartolo should have had the right to have his case tried before a Drugs Court, rather than the Criminal Court, on the basis of changes to the law introduced since his case started.
In both these cases, the court agreed with Bartolo, declaring that his rights had also been breached on both counts.
The court denied two of the points raised by Bartolo.
The first related to whether the lab that had tested the cannabis he was caught with was accredited to run such an analysis, while the second related to the Attorney General’s dual role as state advocate and prosecutor.
Since the case started, the AG’s two roles have been split.
While the decision will see Bartolo breathe a sigh of relief, he has been down this road before.
In 2017, another Constitutional court had ordered the removal of his statements from the criminal records of the case and had also granted him the right to withdraw his admission in court. That decision was overturned on appeal.
It remains to be seen whether the AG will be appealing this case, and if so, what outcome of that appeal would be.
Since Bartolo’s case started, Malta has made substantial progress when it comes to approaching cannabis legally, with the government recently ending a white paper consultation period calling for the legal allowance of four plants per household.
The Labour Party went one step further, calling for the plant to be fully legalised in Malta.
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