A former PN Justice Minister seems to have benefitted from his own inaction in introducing a criminal’s right to a lawyer, with two of his clients walking free despite admitting to the charges.
This week, Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici managed to get two men off the hook for stealing a brand new BMW in August 2005, close to 15 years ago.
The men, Daniel Lanzon and Joseph Zaffarese, had both incriminated themselves during interrogation and were eventually sentenced accordingly.
However, the Court of Criminal Appeal has now ruled that their rights had been breached when they were not given access to a lawyer. Their statements were, therefore, ruled inadmissible. Without any CCTV footage, fingerprints, DNA, or witnesses, the court ruled that they could not charge the suspects with the crime.
The case is ironic, given that Mifsud Bonnici failed to introduce the right when serving within the Home Affairs and Justice Ministry (either a Parliamentary Secretary or Minister) from 2003 to 2012.
A law introducing such a right was passed in Parliament in 2002. However, it only came into force eight years later after a constitutional case forced the then-PN government’s hand.
Led by then-PN backbencher Franco Debono, the lawyer successfully argued in defence of an alleged drug trafficker, to make the law a reality in Malta. The courts have since been flooded with cases of a similar nature.
In the past, Mifsud Bonnici defended the government’s decision not to introduce the right, going as far to say there tacit agreements with the then-opposition (which has been denied) or that the law had not been “definitively accepted” by the EU.
However, it seems the logic no longer applies, with Mifsud Bonnici, who is a sitting MP after a co-option in 2017, successfully using his own inaction to his clients’ benefit.