Court slams police handling in case of man charged six years after investigation

The 2011 case was terminated in September 2017 after the case file was misplaced

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Matthew Agius
3 October 2017, 10:49am
Last updated on 3 October 2017, 10:53am
A magistrate has criticised the police for having only recently pressed charges over a crime which it had investigated in 2011, by which time the accused had turned over a new leaf.

John Paul Charles Woods was arraigned in September, charged with having fraudulently obtained scuba diving gear worth under €5000 in 2011, misappropriation and recidivism.

But Wood's case file was misplaced when the prosecuting police inspector retired from the force and was only rediscovered this year, at which point the man was charged.

A probation officer had informed the court that the man was finally making progress in changing his ways.

Magistrate Joe Mifsud was not impressed by the delay in arraigning the man, saying the court could not fail to comment on what he called “serious problems in the Police force.”

“We cannot have situations where the police investigate a case in September 2011 and the accused be charged about it in September 2017.” The court described this as an injustice to the accused, his family and the victims of the crime. “It is not acceptable for a person to retire from the force and not give a handover of all his pending cases and investigations...the investigation file, instead of being passed on to another investigator was left on a shelf somewhere until someone noticed it years later and decided to arraign to avoid the case being time-barred.”

Although the passage of time did not reduce the accused’s criminal responsibility or the fact that he had to repay his debt to society, the court observed that it could benefit the accused if he showed that over that time he had shown a commitment to reforming himself, quoting the 2002 judgement by the Court of Criminal Appeal in Police vs Nicola Farrugia et.

Also referring to legal authors, the court dismissed the “simplistic idea” that a person who had already been given a non-custodial sentence could not be placed on probation but had to be jailed instead. “It all depends on the particular circumstances of the case, in particular the prospect of success of that particular measure in reforming the guilty person.”

Magistrate Mifsud also referred to speeches by President Coleiro Preca and Bishop Mario Grech on the reintegration of convicts into society, which also highlighted the difficulties encountered by persons undergoing criminal proceedings, who often end up back in prison.

The law gives the courts a lot of leeway in sentencing because there are many factors that vary from case to case, said the magistrate. The accused had admitted in the early stages of proceedings, the passage of time due to police’s mishandling of the case and the fact that the accused had successfully steered clear of drugs for the past 4 years, as testified by his probation officer.

Woods was sentenced to probation for 3 years and placed on a 3 year treatment order.

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Court reporter Matthew Agius is a Legal Procurator and Commissioner for Oaths. Prior to re...