Use of unaccredited forensic lab breached alleged drug trafficker's rights, lawyers claim

The accused’s lawyers argued that the drug seized during the police raid had been tested inside a local laboratory which, at the time, was not accredited by the International Organization for Standardization

A man awaiting trial over the alleged trafficking of 1.5kgs of cannabis three years ago has claimed that that forensic testing of the substances by an unaccredited laboratory had breached his Constitutional rights.

In an application filed in the First Hall of the Civil Court in its constitutional jurisdiction, Nicholas Vella demanded the court grant him “effective and appropriate remedies” to the breach of his right to a fair hearing. Vella’s lawyers, Franco Debono, Marion Camilleri and Amadeus Cachia argued that the drug seized during the police raid had been tested inside a local laboratory which, at the time, was not accredited by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

 Vella had been arrested in June 2016 in Drugs Squad operation which had led to the discovery of a large cannabis stash at a garage in Msida. The accused had been arrested after he was seen entering the garage. A sachet of cannabis grass had been found in his possession. Nine bars of cannabis resin, weighing over a kilogramme were found on site. The drugs were reportedly of 7% purity.

Under a 2009 EU Council Framework Decision adopted by Malta in 2016, it is obligatory for member states to ensure that forensic laboratories are duly accredited in line with international standards.

But the drugs seized by the police in June 2016 had been handed over to a court-appointed scientific expert who tested them in a local laboratory that had not been accredited under the Framework Decision, said the lawyers.

Casting doubt upon the results, the defence team said the situation gave rise to “serious prejudice” which they said, rendered the criminal proceedings against the man null.

 In addition to this, the lawyers pointed out that neither Vella nor a witness in his trial had been assisted by a lawyer when releasing their statements under interrogation - a right enshrined in Maltese law much later. This, they said, constituted a second breach of the applicant’s right to fair hearing, as had been consistently held by EU and local courts.

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