Close to 3,000 drug offenders have appeared before a justice tribunal rather than a court and were given the chance to reform themselves as a result of the drug laws reform enacted four years ago.

Under this system, those charged with simple possession - the term used in those cases whereby the amounts of drugs found is for personal use and not for traffic - are not charged in court but before a commissioner of justice. In case of guilt, the offender may be fined up to €125, but the conviction is not listed on his or her criminal record.

Justice Minister Owen Bonnici on Monday addressed a news conference during which he gave a statistical analysis of this reform rolled out in 2015. He said that the ultimate objective was to give “genuine drug offenders” the chance to make a new start and get rid of their addiction. He noted that prior to this reform even a conviction for simple possession would tarnish one’s criminal record.

It transpires that till the end of last year, 2,710 drug offenders appeared before this tribunal presided by Vicky Scicluna, who is not a lawyer but a social worker. Of this total, 878 were foreigners.

Dr Bonnici noted that, in line with the law, those convicted twice by this tribunal in the space of two years would be referred to experts in a bid to overcome their addiction.

From 2015 till the end of last year, there have been 134 referrals of whom 88 were from the tribunal and the rest from the law courts. In the latter case, the offenders were charged over aggravated possession (quantities above the personal use threshold) and those accused of trafficking but only to finance their addiction.

The Justice Minister noted that 50 of these 134 offenders beat their addiction. Furthermore, there were three cases in which the rehabilitation was so successful that the offenders were handed a suspended sentence or a fine instead of a jail term.

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