A young man cited frequently by Fair Trials International (FTI) as an example of how vulnerable suspects need more legal protection has told The Times he is still struggling to come to terms with his experience in Malta.
I find it hard to trust and feel mistreated in every sense of the word
The case of British citizen James Milton* was highlighted again last month in a comprehensive FTI report on defence rights in the EU.
Mr Milton was a 16-year-old living in Gozo with his mother when two police officers knocked on his door with a warrant to search their home in June 2009.
According to Mr Milton, without explanation he was taken to a police station where he was denigrated and questioned aggressively by Inspector Josric Mifsud, without a lawyer or parent present.
His mother was refused entry to the interview room.
Maltese law does not provide for the presence of a lawyer during interrogation, even for minors. In June 2009 (when Mr Milton was first interrogated aged 16) only under-16s were entitled to have a parent/guardian present during police interviews.
Mr Milton claims he was not told about the allegations or possible charges against him until one hour into his five-hour interrogation.
Now 20, Mr Milton thinks the interrogation scarred him.
“I went from being a 16-year-old to a 30-year-old in five hours. I have missed out on what should have been the best years of my life,” he said.
The Times tried to speak to Mr Mifsud about this case but it was referred to the police media relations unit.
The police insisted Mr Milton was informed of the allegations against him before being interviewed and denied that he was denigrated.
But FTI, a human rights charity, said it had seen official documents confirming Mr Milton’s and his mother’s accounts.
“Being arrested is a particularly frightening and confusing experience for young people such as James.
“Without an adult present, young suspects struggle to understand what is happening, which can fatally undermine their right to a fair trial,” an FTI spokesman said.
Mr Milton eventually learned he was accused of defiling a younger boy when both boys were under 16. The alleged victim – known to Mr Milton and his mother – had made the allegation against Mr Milton only after he himself had been reported to the police for defiling a young boy.
Mr Milton’s passport was confiscated pending trial so that, from June 2009 until his June 2010 trial, he was unable to visit family and friends in the UK despite his mother’s offer to post security or give up her own passport.
During that time, many former friends in Gozo turned against him and two even arranged for him to be beaten up.
He was acquitted of all charges in June 2010 with the court ruling the evidence against him was “grossly lacking”.
When contacted, the Justice Ministry pointed out that the law granting suspects the right to consult a lawyer up to one hour before interrogation entered into force in February 2010, after Mr Milton was interviewed.
Since November 15, 2011, the right for minors to have a parent/guardian present during interrogation was extended to under-18s, “depending on the particular circumstances of the case and the nature of the investigation”, a Justice Ministry spokesman said.
Human rights lawyer Neil Falzon feels that a parent or guardian should be present in all proceedings affecting or possibly affecting a minor’s legal position.
“Interrogating minors without a parent or a guardian is a practice that should not be permitted,” he said.
For Mr Milton, now trying to rebuild his life in England with his girlfriend, changes in the law since his arrest are too little, too late.
“The experience still affects me in the way I act with new people.
“I find it hard to trust anyone new. I find it hard to be around a lot of people even if I know most of them. I feel mistreated in every sense of the word,” he said.
Mr Milton is seeking an apology from the prosecuting officer for the manner he was treated and for pursuing the case despite a lack of evidence. He says he tried to contact the police, but to no avail.
To hear Mr Milton’s account of what happened visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z6XYmBVdYK0&feature=plcp.
* Name changed to protect identity.