A delay in proceedings does not mean that a person does not serve his time in prison

The Constitutional Court held that once a case was to be held with urgency, there was no need that the applicant be released from prison until the case is decided

The Constitutional Court held that once a case was to be held with urgency, there was no need that the applicant be released from prison until the case is decided. This was held in Paul Demicoli vs Attorney General, Police Commissioner and the State Advocate on 8 August 2023. The Court was presided by Chief Justice Mark Chetcuti and judges Giannino Caruana Demajo and Anthony Ellul.

This case goes back to 2004, when Demicoli was accused of carelessness and unskillfulness in relation to the partial collapse of a building in St Paul’s Bay which resulted in the death of two individuals. On 29 October 2009, he was found guilty and was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. This verdict was overturned and changed upon appeal by the Court of Criminal Appeal, which was decided on 27 October 2022 and punishment reduced to two years’ imprisonment.

Demicoli opened a constitutional case in December 2022, on the grounds that he felt aggrieved due to the excessive delays in the criminal proceedings. In the case he asked for declaration that he suffered a violation of his fundamental right when he was sentenced to two years imprisonment. The plaintiff opened this case on the grounds that the verdict that was not decided within a reasonable time, thus violating Article 39 of the Constitution of Malta and Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Therefore he requested that as a remedy he no longer serves the penalty given to him.

Reasonable time is one of the pillars of natural justice, thus it is critical that the courts observe this rule. It was Judge Grazio Mercieca who first recognized the concept of reasonable time as a rule of natural justice. Thus, allowing persons who feel aggrieved by the violation of this concept to initiate proceedings.

The Court decided the case in favour of Demicoli and ordered that the “the effects of the judgment of the Court of Criminal appeal of 27 October 2022 be alongside other conditions”. The decision was appealed by the defendants (Attorney general, Police Commissioner and State Advocate). They based their appeal on two factors; that the decision of the court lacks the elements required for the issuance of such an order. In addition to this, the defendants also believed that the court’s decision was wrong because there was no prima facie evidence of any violation of human rights.

The Constitutional Court did recognize the fact that although this appeal had been filed, there is still a decision taken by the Court of Criminal Appeal. It was also aware that the case in question started in 2005 and was finalized in 2022. The Court also analysed the request Demicoli made, which was that his sentence be revoked and does not need to serve the sentence given to him by the Court to Criminal Appeal.

The Constitutional Court argued that the court could have ordered that the case be heard urgently and in this way ensured a situation where the evidence is documented, the case heard and decided in the shortest possible time. In the circumstances this would certainly have been a more suitable measure than the one that suspend the execution of a sentence that is adjudicated.

Taking all factors into account, The Court reached its conclusion and decided to deliver its verdict in favour of the defendants (Attorney general, Police Commissioner and State Advocate). Furthermore, the Court declared the decision made on 6 February 2023 by the First Court null. The court did not stop there, as the Plaintiff, Paul Demicoli was ordered to pay all court expenses for both instances.