Franco Debono, one of the lawyers representing Christopher Bartolo, the renal failure prisoner who is stuck in legal limbo for a prison sentence that may be invalid, has called out Minister for Justice Owen Bonnici after his recent comments to Lovin Malta.
Minister Bonnici had said that he “did not want to prejudice the case,” when asked to respond to the legal plea.
Mr Bartolo’s next court appearance is scheduled for the 19th of February.
However, Dr Debono has said this might lead to a “dereliction of duty.”
“This attitude contrasts sharply with a recent case where the government commented extensively in the days immediately before judgment when the case was in front of the courts,” Dr Debono said, referring to the William Agius case.
Dr Debono said that “in the recent William Agius case, the government had no duty to intervene, but in this case, it is duty bound to do so.”
“In this case government is duty bound to pronounce itself and decide and doing otherwise could be a dereliction of duty,” he said in reference to Mr Bartolo’s pending bail application.
Dr Debono is referring to a rarely used ‘special cases’ bail application that roped the President, and, by proxy, the cabinet of Malta, into the Christopher Bartolo case.
The special cases bail, if granted, would allow Mr Bartolo to leave prison while his case would be re-assessed. It is not a presidential pardon nor a reduction of Mr Bartolo’s sentence, but merely bail.
His case needs to be re-assessed after a constitutional court ruled in Mr Bartolo’s favour, finding that his rights had been breached when he was interrogated without a lawyer and while in a vulnerable position, having just come out of a 6-hour dialysis session.
“The Pistella case decided recently by the First Hall ruled that statements obtained by police when a lawyer was not allowed to be present during interrogation breach fundamental human rights,” he said.
“The Labour administration introduced the right to legal assistance during interrogations – a proposal I had made in Parliament in November 2011 – only in November 2016, five years later,” he said.
“This could mean that all statements after March, 2013, when Labour was returned to power, are in breach of human rights, just like those pre-2010 when the first limited rights were introduced by the Nationalist administration after I had protested in December 2009,” he continued.
“This means that whilst PN administrations procrastinated considerably to introduce minimum rights, the same attitude was practically adopted by the Labour administration after 2013, since it took them four years (almost a full legislature) to implement right to legal assistance during interrogations,” he concluded.
Mr Bartolo’s constitutional court win meant that his guilty plea could be stricken from the record, leading to a necessary re-assessment of his case.
Dr Debono argues that his client should be allowed out on bail while his case is re-assessed.
“When we filed an application for bail in front of the Chief Justice, irrespective of outcome, it was decided in a few days, not more than a week,” he said. “And this man’s case is further complicated by health issues,” he said – Mr Bartolo has no kidneys, and needs to undergo three 6-hour dialysis sessions a week.
Now awaiting Mr Bartolo’s next sitting on the 19th of February, Dr Debono also said that “a constitutional case against Attorney General and Justice Minister has been drafted and will be filed. Article. 574(2) Criminal Code obliges government to pronounce itself – the government and minister cannot just pose as spectators.”