Missing court documents lead to man's retrial

A crucial defence document was left out of the case file by mistake 

File Photo
File Photo

The Court of Magistrates will have to re-examine the case of a man jailed in January last year after a crucial defence document was left out of the case file by mistake.

Jason Spiteri had been jailed for 15 months by a Court of Magistrates in January 2017 and had filed an appeal to the conviction, also requesting a Constitutional reference claiming a violation of his right to a fair hearing.

The violation occurred when a note of submissions drawn up by Spiteri’s counsel and filed in the court registry in October 2016, together with a copy for the prosecution, never made it into the case file due to an administrative error.

As a result, the defence submissions were never seen by the magistrate presiding over the criminal proceedings, before judgment was handed down.

Mr Justice Silvio Meli, presiding the First Hall, Civil Court in its constitutional jurisdiction, having seen relevant previous judgments, declared that the proceedings had to be analysed as a whole in order to determine whether the failure alleged by the appellant had a determining effect upon the outcome of the case.

It was clear from the evidence that the Magistrates’ Court had been “totally deprived of the submissions” and was unable to carry out a full and complete evaluation of Spiteri’s defence.

Despite having filed his note of submissions, as authorized by the Magistrate, the note was never inserted in the case file, denying the defendant ‘equality of arms’ and consequently of his right to a fair hearing.

The court ruled that such a “procedural imbalance” was the fault of the court administration.

Declaring the appellant as having suffered a breach of his rights, Mr. Justice Meli sent the case back before the court of Magistrates to be re-examined in the light of the submissions which had previously been omitted, also ordering that a copy of the judgment be inserted in the records of the case.

Lawyers Arthur Azzopardi and Rene Darmanin were counsel to the appellant.

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