Drug trafficking conviction quashed by Constitutional Court to be heard by court of magistrates

Christopher Bartolo's lawyers argued that after his statements were expunged, the case against him had gone from one about a kilogram of cannabis to one dealing with just 163 grams of the substance

File photo
File photo

The drug trafficking case against Christopher Bartolo, whose conviction had been quashed by the Constitutional Court in 2018 after his incriminating statements were ruled inadmissible, is to be decided by a magistrate and not a jury.

In a previous sitting in Bartolo’s case before madame justice Consuelo Scerri Herrera, Bartolo’s lawyers had asked the Attorney General to issue a counter-order that would permit the case to be judged by the Court of Magistrates and not the Criminal Court.

Lawyers Franco Debono and Marion Camilleri had argued that with the expunging of the defendant’s statements the case had gone from one about a kilogram of cannabis to one dealing with just 163 grams of the substance. This put it within the competence of the Court of Magistrates and not a jury, the lawyers had said.

When the case continued on Thursday morning, lawyer Abigail Caruana Vella from the Office of the Attorney General informed the court that the prosecution was in agreement with the defence’s submissions and would be issuing a counter-order to the effect that the case would now be heard by a magistrate.

The judge adjourned the case to September so as to give sufficient time for the counter-order to be issued and the case assigned to a magistrate.

Lawyers Franco Debono, Marion Camilleri and Francesca Zarb are assisting Bartolo.

Bartolo had been jailed for five years after being found guilty of drug trafficking when he was caught with the cannabis. He had been diagnosed with kidney failure at the time.

But his conviction was quashed in 2018, after the constitutional court ruled that two statements released by Christopher Bartolo to the police, without his lawyer being present, must be expunged from the acts of the case.

It had emerged that although before his interrogation Bartolo had been advised by his then lawyer to exercise his right to silence, he had decided to answer the police’s questions anyway. Bartolo ended up making several incriminating statements, telling the police that he would buy cannabis blocks both for his personal consumption as well as to sell to third parties – in particular to foreigners in Gozo.

He had pleaded guilty to the charges in 2017 to avoid a trial by jury and was jailed for five years by the Criminal Court.

His conviction was later quashed by the Constitutional Court  which ordered that no future use of any of Bartolo’s statements, sworn or otherwise, be made in his case.

Clarification: A previous version of this story carried a photo that mistakenly showed a man who was not Christopher Bartolo and who had absolutely no connection with this case or any case linked to Bartolo. The error is regreted.