Updated | Lawyers in cocaine trafficking case argue Malta drug testing lab not accredited

UOM Forensic Science Laboratory rebuts argument, says framework decision quoted by lawyers applies only to DNA and fingerprints, not drugs

Malta's forensic laboratory is
Malta's forensic laboratory is "not accredited under EU law" lawyers say

Lawyers for a man indicted for trafficking cocaine have argued that Malta’s forensic laboratory was not accredited to EU standards, in a case which could have massive repercussions on drug convictions in Malta.

Morgan Izuchukwu Onuorah from Nigeria had been charged over his alleged involvement in a drug deal in 2010. He had pleaded not guilty to conspiring to traffic drugs, supplying and being in possession of cocaine and money laundering.

Earlier this week, his lawyers, Franco Debono and Amadeus Cachia, filed an application to the Criminal Court, requesting a Constitutional reference.

They argued that Council Framework Decision 2009/905/JHA on the accreditation of forensic service providers carrying out laboratory activities and Regulation [EC] 765/2008 of the European Parliament and the Council, setting out the requirements for accreditation and market surveillance relating to the marketing of products, requires member states to have accredited forensic service providers for laboratory activity.

This legislation was transposed into Maltese law under subsidiary legislation 460.31, enacted in March 2016.

Forensic service providers have to be accredited by a national body as being in conformity with the EN ISO/IEC 17025 standard.

In the Onuorah case, the drugs found had been analyzed in a laboratory which “at the time was not accredited to EU and local standards,” reads the lawyers’ court application. This “leads to shortcomings and great prejudice” which breach the accused’s fundamental human rights, the said, because the lack of accreditation left doubts as to the results obtained by the laboratory.

The European Commission had established that organisations can undergo two different sorts of third party assessment: certification and accreditation.

Certification confirms that the organisation is in compliance with the EC’s procedures whereas accreditation confirms that the organisation is competent to perform certain tasks.

The court application quotes cases from the United States and legal scholars who had held that laboratory error or carelessness and large numbers of samples being tested are a factor in test results.

If the argument is upheld, the case could have a ripple effect on all drug cases before the courts in which the substances were analysed in Malta after 2016, when the standards became law.


The Forensic Science Laboratory reacts:

Contacted for a reaction, the Forensic Science Laboratory at the University of Malta, which carries out tests on behalf of the courts, pointed out that Council Framework Decision 2009/905/JHA clearly states that the framework decision shall apply to DNA profiles and fingerprint images and does not deal with drug analysis.


“At the end of the day, it is not whether a laboratory is accredited or not, but that the laboratory maintains chain of custody.  We would be stupid to accept a case from the Inquiring Magistrate if we know that the Laboratory must be accredited.  The science is moving towards accreditation but for now this is not a must in drug cases.”

“Nowhere does the Framework nor Maltese legislation mention Drug Analysis.  The purpose of the framework was to protect data protection. DNA and fingerprint images may pose data protection issues, however the analysis of drugs reveals the identity of the drug and nothing about the individual.”