The Court of Criminal Appeal has ruled that proceedings against a man charged with passport-related offences are null and void because he had been prosecuted by an official who was not legally authorised to.
Given the frequency with which individuals appear before Malta’s courts to answer for passport-related crimes, the decision is likely to have far-reaching implications on several other cases.
According to a parliamentary question submitted in April this year, there were 72 people serving sentences after being found guilty of falsifying passports.
MaltaToday reported the decision, which was handed down in the case of Syrian national Hamid Afou, who was arrested at the airport back in July. He pleaded guilty to the charges brought against him and was sentenced to six months in prison.
After his conviction, Afou changed lawyer and filed an appeal, with his new lawyer Arthur Azzopardi, arguing that the proceedings against his client should be declared null and void given that the Principal Immigration Officer, who normally prosecutes such cases, is not legally empowered to do so.
He noted that the law only gives the Principal Immigration Officer the right to arrest individuals believed to have committed passport-related offences and it must be the police who prosecute.
The court, presided over by Judge Giovanni Grixtri, agreed that the Principal Immigration Officer had no right to prosecute, and declared the case against Afou null.
It is unclear how many cases this could impact, but it is likely that anyone convicted for a similar offence who is awaiting an appeal decision might be able to walk away, irrespective of the merits of the case.
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