Drug law reform opened for public consultation

Justice Ministry launches set of proposals to reform Malta's drug laws

Justice Minister Jonathan Attard cut the metaphorical ribbon on a public consultation process to reform Malta’s drug laws, in a move he hailed as a “courageous reform for a more fair society”.

The draft law is the result of discussions with various stakeholders, including the judiciary, probation and parole boards, the National Addiction Advisory Board, Sedqa, Mount Carmel Hospital, the Court Services Agency and lawyers who practise in the sector.

It is aimed at strengthening the implementation of legislation that is already in effect, Attard said, with greater emphasis on “human considerations” and efficiency, insisting that the new law will not benefit drug traffickers and those who profit from the misery of drug abusers.

He explained that the proposed legislative framework would make for more proportional measures, in line with international treaties.

“In 2014 the government was brave enough to introduce the concept of a Drugs Court, which offers a second chance to drug victims… then the Drug Treatment Not Imprisonment Act was introduced in 2015, under which less serious drug offences were brought before a commissioner instead of a court,” Attard said.

Justice Minister Jonathan Attard at the consultation launch (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)
Justice Minister Jonathan Attard at the consultation launch (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)

“Today, nearly 10 years on, we are introducing new reforms to strengthen the framework, using feedback from the judiciary, law enforcement, drug victims and their families,” Attard said.

The primary proposals, which were drafted by lawyer Alex Scerri Herrera, include the increase in the composition of the Drug Offenders Rehabilitation Board, the clarification of the criteria for a court to convert itself into a drugs court, and the introduction of a requirement that the board give reasons for its decisions and communicate its decisions to other courts. 

Lawyer Alex Scerri Herrera explaining the proposals (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)
Lawyer Alex Scerri Herrera explaining the proposals (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)

The other proposals include non-jury trials for serious drug offences and allowing prison inmates who are caught with drugs, while serving time, to qualify for rehabilitation instead of automatic re-imprisonment when they are convicted for that offence. This often takes place after they finish serving their original sentences.

Lastly, the government is proposing a “moderate increase” in the maximum amounts of drugs in a person’s possession that can be considered as being for personal use before the drug court’s jurisdiction is exceeded. That would mean 500 ecstasy pills, up from the current 300; up to 200 grams of heroin or cocaine instead of the current 100, and 500 grams of cannabis rather than 300 grams as the law currently stands.

Attard also mooted the idea of removing past convictions for drug offences from offenders’ criminal records. “Even if it affects only one person, it is the duty of politicians to ensure that no one is left behind in society,” Attard said, before praising the work done by the Sentencing Advisory Policy Board, chaired by lawyer Alex Scerri Herrera.

“Together we will continue the path towards effective justice, where everyone is accountable for their actions but in a proportional way.”

The minister bristled when asked by MaltaToday whether, by its consistent granting over the past 10 years of an ever-increasing number of rights to lawbreakers, the government was saying that committing a criminal offence is not as unacceptable as it used to be.

“I disagree with your statement,” Attard replied. “We want more proportionality. Deterrents must be strong but here we are talking about the victims of drugs. I believe that in their punishments, there must be proportionality and in no way are we sending a message that it is acceptable to commit a crime.”

The minister invited the general public to participate in the consultation process by submitting their ideas and feedback on the proposals, either by email to [email protected] or online at www.publicconsultation.gov.mt, between January 12 to Feburary 9, 2024.

The final draft law will be published after the consultation process is over.