In a landmark ruling, Malta’s Constitutional Court decided on Friday that the two statements given by Christopher Bartolo to the police without a lawyer present should be removed from the case.
These statements were the only evidence related to his alleged drug trafficking. The ruling was given by Chief Justice Joseph Azzopardi, Judge Giannino Caruana Demajo and Judge Neil Cuschieri.
This is the first time that a Constitutional Court has declared that a statement given during a police interrogation, even where the suspect had access to a one hour consultation with his lawyer prior to being interrogated, is deemed inadmissible.
This ruling thus seems to indicate that a lawyer has to be present during the interrogation and not just prior to it, so as not to be in breach of fundamental human rights.
Christopher Bartolo is still facing criminal charges for alleged drug trafficking when he was caught with cannabis after he was diagnosed with kidney failure
His fiancee Rachel told Lovin Malta that while she felt “a weight off our shoulders with this judgement, the fight still goes on with the final judgement still pending.”
Lawyers Dr Franco Debono and Dr Amadeus Cachia, who represent Christopher Bartolo, attacked the validity of the statements obtained by police from a suspect who had just one hour of consultation prior to being interrogated, and who was not allowed access to lawyers as he was interrogated.
Dr Debono himself had previously passed a private member’s motion way back in 2011 proposing the right to legal assistance during interrogations. This was eventually introduced in 2015 when Malta finally became fully compliant with European Court of Human Rights rulings and European Union directives.
This ruling could lead to a number of cases being affected, with statements given to the police without a lawyer present being disallowed.
This could lead to a second wave of judgements related to the admissibility of police statements being dropped, much in the same vein as what happened following the Alvin Privitera case in 2010.