The director of a lighting company convicted five years ago over an accident that took place at an open-air disco in Qawra in 2008 will have his case heard afresh after the original judgment was quashed over a procedural error.
Maurice Attard had been sentenced to a 10-month jail term over the accident which occurred when the heavy lighting structure installed by the company at the event’s main stage collapsed under the heavy winds.
The accident resulted in a number of casualties, including then 17-year-old Vlada Kravchenko who ended up paralysed and wheelchair-bound after suffering head and spinal injuries.
The accused’s lawyers filed an appeal, arguing that the proceedings were null on account of a procedural defect that had taken occurred in the earlier stages of the proceedings.
In 2010, the attorney general had sent back the case to be tried before the magistrates’ courts as a court of criminal judicature.
But that was when the “fatal” error was committed.
The court had failed to ask the accused whether he objected to having his case dealt with summarily, namely before a magistrate rather than a judge presiding over the Criminal Court.
The proceedings continued, the defence produced evidence, cross-examined witnesses, also producing the accused himself as a witness and made final submissions.
All that meant that the defence had “tacitly” accepted to have the case heard by a magistrates’ court, argued the attorney general when that procedural omission was flagged by Attard’s lawyers on appeal.
Moreover, more recent amendments to the Criminal Code in 2015 had increased the competence of the magistrates’ courts with the case now falling clearly within that competence, the AG argued further.
However, the court of criminal appeal, presided over by Mr Justice Giovanni Grixti, rejected the AG’s arguments observing that competence was a matter of public order.
The court could not assume powers not endowed upon it at law.
In this case, the magistrates’ court was bound to put that question to the accused in a solemn manner, allowing the accused adequate time to answer.
Such “an essential formality” could not be “dispensed with”, said the court, observing that the case had subsequently been handled by different magistrates who expected the formality to have been adhered to previously.
The last magistrate who delivered judgment had quickened the pace in wrapping up the case, yet the records showed that that “fatal” omission had never been addressed.
Nor was the “saving clause” under the 2015 amendments applicable to this case which was pending when the law was changed.
Consequently, the court quashed the judgment and sent the records back to the magistrates’ court as the competent one to hear the case afresh.
Lawyers Giannella de Marco and Stephen Tonna Lowell appeared for Attard.