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Man whose court case has dragged for 10 years wins €2,500 compensation

The Attorney General has been ordered to pay a man facing criminal proceedings over drug smuggling €2,500 in compensation because the case has been dragging for 10 years.

The AG and was given 30 days to decide whether to issue a bill of indictment against the accused or else pay €50 a day until a final decision is taken.

Joseph Grech, 55, from Marsa had been arrested in 2013 in connection with the discovery of 28 sacks, containing about 430 kilograms of cannabis leaves and blocks of cannabis resin buried in a field in Victoria Gardens, St Julian’s in 2009. Six other people were also charged in connection with the drug find - the largest ever in Malta at the time.

Mr Justice Robert Mangion heard how the prosecution had not finished exhibiting its evidence, due to the Attorney General’s insistence on hearing the evidence of two witnesses, Scott Dixon and Kevin Sammut, who the defence is arguing, cannot be heard because they qualify as co-accused.

Dixon and Sammut had been called to the witness stand but had declined to testify in view of the ongoing criminal proceedings against them about the same drugs, with the case against Grech being paused indefinitely.

Grech filed a constitutional case claiming a breach of his right to a fair hearing within a reasonable time and asking the court to order the prosecution to declare its evidence closed.

The Attorney General argued that the prosecution’s insistence on the testimony of these two witnesses, who are presently indicted, was not a capricious one, but arose out of its obligation to prove its case carefully.

The court heard Assistant Police Commissioner Dennis Theuma explain how the case had reached a bottleneck because Dixon and Sammut would not testify. Asked who had decided to prosecute the men separately, Theuma said the decision was taken by the Attorney General, in consultation with the police. He conceded that the case against the other two men was “years” away from its conclusion, not least because they are yet to face a trial by jury.

In his judgement, Mr Justice Mangion said the delay on the part of the prosecution to declare its evidence closed was due to its insistence to produce third party witnesses “who…are inadmissible at this stage.”

It was clear that the prosecution was awaiting the conclusion of criminal proceedings against third parties to summon them as witnesses against Grech.

The judge said it was true that without Dixon and Sammut’s testimony the prosecution’s case against Grech might not be strong enough to achieve a conviction. However, on the other hand, the proceedings against Grech could not be paused indefinitely in the hope that they could one day testify, probably years from now, assuming no further proceedings are filed against them.

Mr Justice Mangion declared that the delays were breaching the defendant’s fundamental rights and therefore declared the compilation of the prosecution’s evidence closed.

He also ordered the AG to decide whether to issue a bill of indictment in the next 30 days or be liable to compensate Grech by €50 for every day in excess of that period, until the relative orders are issued.

Lawyers Edward Gatt and Mark Vassallo represented Grech.