Constitutional court orders removal of unassisted statement in lawyer's drug smuggling trial

Graziella Attard was just 23-years-old in 2004, when she was arrested together with her Neapolitan boyfriend for posession and conspiracy to import and traffic drugs

A lawyer due to go on trial on drug-smuggling charges has convinced the Constitutional court to remove a police statement she released 18 years ago upon arrest and without legal assistance from evidence.

Graziella Attard had been a 23-year-old law student in 2004 when she was arrested together with her Neapolitan boyfriend, Roberto Conte upon their arrival from Pozzallo, Sicily by police acting on a tipoff.

Some 10 kilograms of cannabis resin was found tucked under one of the seats of the couple’s Peugeot. A separate search of the couple’s Fgura home later that night had yielded more drugs.

The couple was arrested and charged with importation and possession of cannabis and with conspiracy to import and traffic drugs.
Conte had pleaded guilty was handed a 12-year jail term and a €28,000 fine in January 2008.

Attard, however, had maintained her innocence and is awaiting trial after the compilation of evidence against her was concluded.
In September 2016 Attard had filed constitutional proceedings against the Attorney General claiming a breach of her right to a fair hearing in view of the fact that when she made her statement to police, two days after being arrest, she had not consulted a lawyer.

In 2004, Maltese law did not grant the right to legal assistance to persons under arrest.

But several judgements by the European Court of Human Rights and the Constitutional Court have established that fair trial rights are prejudiced by restrictions on his access to a lawyer during police custody.

The First Hall, of the Civil Court, in its Constitutional jurisdiction, presided over by Madam Justice Lorraine Schembri Orland, observed that the applicant had released her statement to the police after being duly cautioned.

The then young law student had at first denied all allegations, but had later admitted to having known of her boyfriend’s plan to acquire and import 38 blocks of cannabis resin from Italy with the intention of handing them over to a third party in return for a cut of the profits.
Conte had benefited from a reduction in punishment by testifying against Attard her regard.

In an extensively-researched 77-page judgment, Madam Justice Schembri Orland turned down Attard’s request for a re-hearing of the case, but concluded that her right to a fair hearing could potentially be breached if her police statement were to be produced in evidence against her in the trial.

Since Attard had not consulted a lawyer during the early stages of her arrest, a right which has been consistently reaffirmed by the European Court of Human Rights and local courts, Schembri Orland ordered the removal of the statement containing her admission from the acts of the case.

Lawyers Franco Debono and Amadeus Cachia assisted Attard.

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