Court finds human rights violations against kidney transplant patient

The Court found three cases in which Christopher Bartolo's rights were violated

The Court has found human rights violations against Christopher Bartolo, a kidney transplant patient who was sentenced to a five-year jail term in 2017 for trafficking cannabis.

Under its jurisdiction as a Constitutional Court, the First Hall Civil Court ruled that the law failed to distinguish between a person brought before the Drugs Court under the Drug Dependance Act, and a person facing legal proceedings in the Criminal Court.

The court ruled that the only thing determining whether the case could be heard before the Drugs Court was the amount of drugs involved in the case, which it said was discriminatory.

Further violations were declared because a police statement was taken without the presence of a lawyer. The Constitutional Court confirmed that there were violations which led to Bartolo being denied bail before pleading guilty to the charges brought against him.

Chrisopher Bartolo's request on human rights violations was upheld by Judge Toni Abela, who said that Bartolo should be given the same treatment and remedies given to Brian Vella in an identical case related to drug trafficking.

On 15 December last year, the First Hall Civil Court upheld Chrisopher Bartolo's request that a case on human rights violations should be given the necessary priority, and his complaint to be decided by the Constitutional Court before the case is continued at the Court of Criminal Appeal.

In April 2017 Bartolo was sentenced to five years in prison after admitting trafficking cannabis when he was using it to relieve pain, pain according to which he would not be relieved by the pills he had been prescribed. Later in November, the Constitutional Court found that denying Bartolo access to a lawyer during questioning had violated his right to a fair trial.

Judge Abela said that as far as Article 14 on the right to a fair hearing is concerned, the accused should not be treated any differently to others in the same position. Differential treatment is in itself the rejection of Article 6 of the Convention, and that treatment must be unjustified, unreasonable or disproportionate.

Christopher Bartolo was receiving treatment for acute kidney disease and was released from prison in February 2018 after then President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca accepted the cabinet's advice to release Bartolo on humanitarian grounds but with various strings attached.

In his applications made by Lawyers Franco Debono, Marion Camilleri and Francesca Zarb, Bartolo said that while the Court confirmed that there was a violation of his human rights, he noted that the Court had also revoked part of the sentence that ordered he be given remedies whereby he could return to the same life he had before having to enter a plea.

He also said that this decision contrasts with a judgment handed down a few days later by the same Constitutional Court, which had led to a different decision in two practically identical cases.

He reiterated that it is not in the spirit of the law that there should be discrimination between whether or not a person has the proceedings pending before the Criminal Court or whether or not proceedings are pending before the Court of Magistrates as regards the applicability of Chapter 537.

This is because the law does not speak of whether a person is indicted before the Court of Magistrates or the Criminal Court. It only talks about the quantity of drugs.

Since the case before the Criminal Court was based solely on the statements given by Bartolo, which statements were considered to violate fundamental human rights. This is also because he had no legal assistance, it follows that the same statements confirmed under oath before Magistrate Josette Demicoli are also in breach of his fundamental rights.