The Malta Independent 25 April 2019, Thursday

Statements taken in absence of lawyer cannot be used in drug trial, court rules

Wednesday, 10 April 2019, 18:01 Last update: about 14 days ago

The Court of Criminal Appeal has turned down a request by the Attorney General to read out to jurors unassisted statements and other information given by three persons accused of drug trafficking at their trial.

The court, presided by Acting President Judge Joseph Zammit McKeon and judges Abigail Lofaro and Giovanni Grixti, confirmed the decision of the Criminal Court, which had held that police statements released by 26-year-old Rio Micallef from Marsa, David Tabone ,25, from Naxxar and Darren James Vella, 19 from Birkirkara were not to be exhibited as the men had not been assisted by a lawyer during their interrogation.

The men are expected to be tried by a jury next year, after being indicted for conspiracy to traffic ecstasy in 2008. Micallef alone is also accused of possession of ecstasy and relapsing and Tabone is accused of also being in possession of cocaine. Vella alone is also accused of breaching the conditions of a suspended sentence.

Micallef, Tabone and Vella are denying the charges and had obtained a judgment.

The Court of Criminal Appeal upheld the decision of the first court and reiterated its position that the use of a statement taken without the assistance of a lawyer constitutes a breach of the right to a fair hearing.

Therefore no reference to any of the accused’s unassisted statements, be they oral or in writing, may be made during the trial.

Lawyer Franco Debono is appearing for Rio Micallef and lawyer Arthur Azzopardi is defence counsel to David Tabone. Darren James Vella is being represented by lawyer Michael Sciriha.

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