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MALTATODAY 27 March 2022

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13 NEWS maltatoday | SUNDAY • 27 MARCH 2022 MATTHEW AGIUS A judge has ordered the State to pay over €28,000 in compen- sation to Sebastian (Bastjan) Dalli, after declaring that Dal- li had suffered human rights breaches due to ongoing delays in drug-trafficking proceed- ings against him dating back 12 years, and because of the legal impossibility of contesting the accompanying freezing order. Dalli, brother of former min- ister and disgraced EU commis- sioner John Dalli, filed the Con- stitutional proceedings in 2020. He had been arraigned in court in February 2009, accused of conspiracy to import canna- bis. Dalli had been arrested dur- ing a police operation at Miġra l-Ferħa whilst taking delivery of what was thought to be a consignment of cannabis – but which turned out to be soap. In January 2021, the Crim- inal Court had refused Dal- li's request that it rescind the freezing order, saying the order should remain in force until fi- nal judgement is delivered. In that judgement, however, the Criminal Court had also invit- ed Dalli to file a Constitutional case about the excessive dura- tion of the proceedings against him. That case was decided in Dal- li's favour by Mr. Justice Toni Abela on Tuesday, 21 March. The judge lambasted the pros- ecution for failing to conclude the exhibition of its evidence in the 2009 case. "To this day, precisely more than 12 years after these proceedings were instituted, these proceedings are still pending, in the prose- cution's evidence stage, because of delays for which the prosecu- tion is solely to blame." The judge pulled no punches in his criticism of the way the case was prosecuted, expressing his court's "frustration and dis- appointment at the utterly un- professional manner in which all the agents of the State con- ducted the criminal proceed- ings." Mr. Justice Abela said he had gone through the case file and declared himself "astounded" as to how the criminal case was still adjourned for the conclu- sion of the prosecution's ev- idence after a staggering 123 sittings. The records showed that nothing happened in most of the sittings, said the judge, go- ing on to observe that "many others contained only a pre- tence of something having been done." He took into consideration Dalli's testimony, in which he had described how the freezing orders had "shut my life down completely." Dalli had told the court that he had been unable to work or pay stamp duty because the banks had closed his accounts. "To- day I don't even have a pension. My life has been destroyed and my life depends on my siblings," Dalli testified. Whilst it was true that the war in Libya had caused some de- lays to the receipt of letters rog- atory in 2011, the judge said it was "incredible" that the prose- cution had first declared its ev- idence closed 12 years ago but that the case was still currently adjourned for the prosecution's evidence. On several occasions the At- torney General had request- ed the exhibition of evidence which was already in the acts, noted the court. In most sit- tings after the last witness tes- tified, the police would declare that it had no further evidence to exhibit and the Attorney General would insist that more evidence is required. In a sitting in March 2020, af- ter the case had been ongoing for 13 years, the prosecuting police inspector had informed the court that the AG wanted to summon several new witnesses. "After 13 years! This song and dance between the prosecution, the AG and the Court contin- ued until finally… on 2 March 2021, the decree regarding the Constitutional reference was given...I n short after all this time, nothing of substance took place," said the court. In the meantime, the freezing order was still in place; "adding insult to injury" – Abela noted – Dalli had no legal means to request its removal new dis- positions allowing them to be challenged applied only to such orders imposed after the 2014 change in the law. "In the opinion of this court, the manner in which these pro- ceedings were conducted are a textbook case of how the mal- administration of justice affects the life of the individual," ruled the judge, scathingly. "The applicant was left in lim- bo, most probably due to an oversight by the legislator, who to date has done nothing to ad- dress this injustice." The introduction of a legal means to challenge freezing orders should not have been delayed until the EU issued a directive in 2014, forcing the government's hand, he said. The court declared the breach of Dalli's rights as "manifest," upholding his claim and ruling that compensation was due. The amount of compensa- tion the court could award was based on the amount a person struck by a freezing order issued under the Dangerous Drugs Act can continue to receive, said the judge. "Amounts, which in the opinion of the court are risible by today's standards." Mr. Justice Abela declared the freezing order to have breached Dalli's rights and revoked it, ordering the State to pay him €27,952 in compensation, to- gether with the accumulated le- gal interest on this sum starting from the May 2019 sitting in which the presiding magistrate first urged the Attorney Gener- al to do what was necessary to avoid further delays to the case. The court also ordered that the compensation be paid di- rectly to the applicant. Lawyer Arthur Azzopardi represented Dalli in the proceedings. Bastjan Dalli gets €28,000 over delays in 'cannabis-soap' charges Judge gives scathing reprimand to prosecution over criminal case still adjourned for conclusion of evidence after a staggering 123 sittings "To this day, precisely more than 12 years after these proceedings were instituted, these proceedings are still pending, in the prosecution's evidence stage, because of delays for which the prosecution is solely to blame" Sebastian (Bastjan) Dalli (pictured) is brother to disgraced former European commissioner John Dalli

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