Magistrate explains drug case delays
A 43-year-old Gozitan man was yesterday jailed for six months in a case over possession of drugs and counterfeit cash which had been pending since 1999.
Magistrate Consuelo Scerri Herrera dedicated most of her 27-page judgment to explaining why it had taken the court so long to conclude the case, explaining that five years had been wasted because of an administrative mistake.
The case involved Francis Axiaq, of San Lawrenz, who was charged with the possession of heroin, cocaine and counterfeit Maltese currency and relapsing.
The magistrate noted that with the passage of so many years, the accused had brought his life back on the right track but was a sick man, so she recommended that he serves his time in hospital rather than in prison.
She explained that Mr Axiaq had been caught in June 1999 and the case reached court in February 2000.
The first sitting was held in May of that year but the case was only assigned to her in December 2005 due to an administrative mistake.
Since then, the court had held 55 sittings, 12 of which were taken up by the prosecution in the compilation of evidence.
On its part, the defence team took five years to produce its witnesses, spread over 34 sittings, with the last one held in June.
Magistrate Scerri Herrera remarked that the accused could surely not claim a breach of his human right to a fair hearing within a reasonable time because his defence lawyer, Carmelo Galea, had taken so long to prepare his defence.
The magistrate said the prosecution had failed to appear 14 times while the accused failed to appear in court six times for varied reasons, including not having a police escort. The defence lawyer failed to appear on seven occasions either because he was abroad or had other work in the Gozo or Malta courts.
She admitted that she herself could not attend on six occasions but had deferred the case to the nearest possible date.
She said she had made these observations to avoid comments by the media on the delays.