Constitutional court dismisses rights breach claim by jailed drug trafficker

The trafficker conducted his defence in a 2017 jury without legal assistance. He now argues that this breached his right to a fair trial

A man jailed for 15 years and fined €30,000 in 2017 in a cocaine trafficking jury, in which he defended himself without legal assistance, has had a case he filed, arguing a breach of his right to a fair trial, thrown out by the Constitutional Court.

Kingsley Wilcox, 38, from Nigeria was jailed in connection with the discovery of several bags of cocaine stuffed into a suitcase in 2012.

He was arrested following an investigation into another Nigerian man, Paul Ugochukwu, who was stopped on suspicion that he was carrying drugs as he arrived on a flight from Spain on October 2012. Although no drugs were found on his person, police had found a text message he sent to a Spanish man, Jose Manuel Domingo Benito, instructing him to seek accommodation at the Tropicana Hotel in Paceville.

When the police raided the Spaniard's hotel room, they had found two sealed packages containing just over a kilogram of what they suspect to be cocaine in the suitcase as well as traces of cannabis grass on the desk in the hotel room.

Wilcox had been arrested after the police conducted a controlled delivery of the drugs, estimated as having a street value of €86,824.

He was jailed for 15 years and fined €30,000 on 8 April 2017 by the Criminal Court. Wilcox had filed an appeal on the merits, which had been rejected by the Court of Criminal Appeal in January 2020.

The Nigerian had subsequently filed Constitutional proceedings, arguing amongst other things, that he had not enjoyed a fair trial, that his police statement had been taken without a lawyer being present, that he was entrapped by the controlled delivery which was carried out with his help and without him having first consulted a lawyer.

The Attorney General had rebutted the arguments, pointing out that the accused had met a lawyer of his choosing before releasing his statement and could had requested its expungement from the acts afterwards.

It was during the jury that Wilcox had decided to represent himself, said the AG, arguing that no entrapment took place and denying the accused’s assertion that he had been paid €700 to participate in the controlled delivery.

The court, presided by judges Mark Chetcuti, Giannino Caruana Demajo and Anthony Ellul, noted that Wilcox had assisted the police in the arrests of two other men through controlled deliveries.

It said that it was established in jurisprudence that the simple absence of a lawyer during questioning did not automatically mean that there was a breach of fundamental human rights, making reference to the Stephen Pirotta v AG case decided in 2019.

The judges also quoted from ECHR case Stephens v Malta which stated that: “what constitutes a fair trial cannot be the subject of a single unvarying rule but must depend on the circumstances of the particular case. The Court’s primary concern, in examining a complaint under Article 6 § 1, is to evaluate the overall fairness of the criminal proceedings.”

In this case, the judges said that the applicant was not a vulnerable or mentally disturbed person, that there was no evidence of coercion by the police. He had agreed to participate in controlled deliveries after consulting with a lawyer, observed the court, adding that there were differences in the version of events he described to the police at the time of his arrest and the version he had given to the jury.

“During the criminal proceedings, the applicant had every opportunity to contest the admissibility of the statements as evidence. However, he did not present a preliminary plea in this regard. Rather when the jury had started and the prosecution had asked the court to disseminate his statement to jurors, he did not object.

“The court cannot understand how now the applicant is expecting to change his mind and insist that the use of the statements led to the breach of his fundamental right to a fair hearing.”

A number of persons had been identified from his mobile phone and arrested, noted the court, and the jury had been convinced beyond reasonable doubt that there was a sufficient link between them to lead to the conviction on conspiracy to deal in drugs.

There was far more evidence against Wilcox than the statement which he was complaining about, said the judges, pointing out that there wasn’t “the slightest evidence” that he had been pressured into making his statement.

Likewise, his insinuation that the controlled delivery was the best evidence against him, “conveniently neglected to mention” important facts which negated this argument, said the court.

There was no evidence to show that the man had not cooperated freely with the police or that he had been entrapped, said the judges, dismissing the appeal with costs against Wilcox.