State's appeal against suspension of judgment in case against kidney transplant patient dismissed

Kidney transplant patient argues sentence for trafficking cannabis 'excessive'

Three judges of the Constitutional Court have rejected an appeal by the State Advocate against an interim measure suspending the delivery of judgment in the criminal appeal filed by Christopher Bartolo.

Bartolo is a kidney transplant patient, who was sentenced to a five-year jail term in 2017 for trafficking cannabis.

He had filed an appeal against that sentence, arguing that the punishment was excessive. The case was put off for a decision in January 2021.

In separate proceedings in November 2017, the First Hall, Civil Court, in its constitutional jurisdiction, had upheld arguments by Bartolo’s lawyers that the final sentence in the criminal appeal be suspended pending the outcome of the Constitutional case.

Bartolo’s lawyers had also filed constitutional proceedings arguing that a previous judgment by the Constitutional Court had confirmed Bartolo’s rights had been breached by the absence of a lawyer during his statement, but had effectively been denied the possibility of being placed in the same state he had been before pleading guilty in the criminal proceedings.

The latest constitutional case had been decided in Bartolo’s favour in December 2020, but the State Advocate had filed an appeal, arguing that a provisional remedy required the demonstration of an irremediable breach of fundamental rights. It was not made clear in the judgment that this had been the case, argued the State Advocate.

Most importantly, there was a judgment of the Court of Appeal that was handed down after Bartolo was sentenced in April 2017, which ordered that no further use of his unassisted statements be made in criminal proceedings. However, the judgment given by the Criminal Court, which was delivered before the Constitutional proceedings were over, made repeated reference to the statements in the finding of guilt.

Irrespectively of whether the court made the correct decision in that case, the judges said that it had been right to order the suspension of the hearing of Bartolo’s appeal as an interim measure. This because of the potentially irreversible effects on Bartolo in the particular circumstances of this case.

For this reason, the court dismissed the State Advocate’s appeal with costs.

Mr Justice Joseph R. Micallef, Mr Justice Tonio Mallia and Mr Justice Anthony Ellul presided the case.

Lawyer Maurizio Cordina appeared for the office of the State Advocate. Lawyer Franco Debono appeared for Bartolo.