Justice Minister Owen Bonnici has promised not to drag his feet on assessing the case of renal failure prisoner Christopher Bartolo who is currently petitioning for the granting of a ‘special cases bail’.
Speaking to Lovin Malta, the Justice Minister said: “The unit in the Justice department dealing with presidential pardons and similar procedures like this one is speaking to all the relevant authorities, like the Police Commissioner and the Attorney General, and then they will bring me the report from the various institutions where I will then make a decision.”
While saying he was familiar with the case, Bonnici said that was especially interested in knowing if Christopher’s “health can be shown to be getting worse in prison rather than if he was out”.
He also noted that the Chief Justice had already seen Christopher’s petition and denied him bail, and asked if it would be prudent for a “politician to overturn the Chief Justice’s decision”.
One of Christopher Bartolo’s lawyers, Franco Debono, told Lovin Malta that though he had represented “thousands” of people in his career, this was the very first time he was asking for the ‘special-cases bail’ to be applied.
He also said that the ‘special cases bail’ was “intended as a last resort. If it has to be applied, it has to be applied when the courts have already given their ruling,” Dr. Debono said, in reference to the Chief Justice’s decision.
He also commented on the Justice Minister taking the Attorney General’s opinion on this matter into account before his decision.
“If the Justice Minister is going to consult the Attorney General as prosecutor, that’s fine,” said Dr. Debono. “But if he is going to consult the Attorney General for advice on this case, that is a clear conflict of interest, and that could be in breach of his constitutional rights to a fair hearing.”
“One is entitled to a fair hearing, to an impartial and independent hearing, and what has to be guaranteed is that when decisions are going to made by the courts or by the President there must not be conflict of interest of this kind,” Dr. Debono said.
The request for Christopher Bartolo to be released on a ‘special-cases bail’ has been redirected towards Cabinet and the Justice Minister after the President of Malta pointed out that all she can do is sign off on his release – the recommendation for his release must actually be made by someone else.
The father-of-two had suffered a double kidney failure and subsequently lost a donated kidney soon after being sent to prison, and his lawyers are now attempting to have him released using a rarely-used bail request ahead of his retrial.
“The Office of the President would like to point out that this is not a decision which the President takes upon her own judgement, but acts upon the recommendation of the Cabinet or a Minister,” the President’s office said in a statement to Lovin Malta.
“This is, in fact, very clearly stated in Article 85 of the Constitution which states that ‘in the exercise of his/her functions, the President shall act in accordance with the advice of the Cabinet or a Minister acting under the general authority of the Cabinet,” they continued.
President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca herself told Lovin Malta that “we need a proper discussion” on how to deal with prisoners rights and also on how justice was meted out in Malta. She also said that “justice delayed is justice denied.”
His partner also recently spoke to Lovin Malta, stating that she was not looking for a presidential pardon, but merely for Christopher to be granted bail to spend time with his children and family until his court case actually starts.
Why should Christopher Bartolo be granted bail?
1. His state of health
A clear humanitarian case can be made for a prisoner in such a “precarious state of health” – Christopher Bartolo must do three six-hour dialysis sessions every week, or risk total renal failure, which could be deadly.
He also allegedly did not receive his anti-rejection pills in prison, leading to him losing his donated kidney, and reportedly spent the summer in a cell without air-conditioning or a fan, circumstances that could bring on renal failure.
2. His constitutional win means he needs to be retried
Christopher had recently won a constitutional appeal that confirmed that his human rights had been breached when the police interrogated him. They had picked him up right after a 6-hour dialysis session, and interrogated him without a lawyer present, conning him into giving an admission of guilt.
This win led to much of the original case against Christopher dropping, and he now awaits his reassessment in a new trial.
Dr. Debono asked whether it made sense for a man to serve his sentence in prison before he has even received his sentence.
3. The potential for further human rights breaches
The potential for further human rights breaches that could occur by keeping such an ill man inside a prison where he allegedly couldn’t even access his medicine is obvious to anyone.
The fact that a man is being held in prison even though his case had been dismissed and he is awaiting his new case while in prison is clearly unethical, and can only lead to further human rights breaches.