Criminal defence lawyer and MP Franco Debono has accused the Attorney General of downplaying a serious human rights breach when suspects were not given access to a lawyer.

His comments come in the wake of the Attorney General’s appeal of a recent landmark judgement in which Magistrate Marseann Farrugia acquitted a man accused of drug trafficking because a statement in which he admitted to the crime had been obtained without him being given access to a lawyer.

Early last year, Dr Debono, a PN backbencher, pressured the government to bring into force the relevant legal notice, making it possible for arrested suspects to consult their lawyer. The law had sat on the shelf since it was enacted by Parliament in 2002 and, for years, suspects did not have the right to a lawyer.

The Constitutional Court last month ruled that three suspects in separate cases had their human rights breached because they had no access to a lawyer before their interrogation, during which they released incriminating statements.

On the basis of the ruling, a man has been acquitted of drug trafficking charges and others in similar situations, including the convicted killer of a Gozitan warden, are following suit asking for their cases to be reviewed. Attorney General Peter Grech said the point on which he disagreed with the Magistrates’ Court was when it ruled that the statement should be disregarded completely because the Constitutional Court did not say so.

Dr Grech said one should take a step back and keep from drumming up a panic about this issue because there had been breaches in the past and the relevant laws were amended.

Dr Debono asked if the Attorney General thought it was a serious issue that Malta was the only European country not to have the law prior to 2010. Furthermore, it was certainly a matter of grave concern that, potentially, every statement taken prior to the enactment of the law was in breach of a suspect’s fundamental human rights.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us