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Woman appeals against drug convictions

A woman found guilty of drug offences has appealed to the Supreme Court to overturn her convictions on the ground that her trial was delayed for too long.

Rebecca Wallington, 45, from Southampton, was found guilty in Magistrates’ Court of possession of 418g of cannabis with intent to supply in November 2016 and of possession with intent to supply of 857g of the same drug in January 2017.

But she launched appeals against the convictions before she could be sentenced.

Mark Pettingill, who appeared for Wallington, said at a hearing last week that a series delays caused a breach of her constitutional right to a fair trial in a reasonable time.

The 2016 case was at first scheduled for trial in the summer of 2017, but was pushed back after the death of lawyer Shawn Crockwell.

A trial started in May 2018 with closing statements delivered two months later, but the magistrate who heard the case recused himself because of a conflict of interest before a judgment could be delivered.

Mr Pettingill said the Supreme Court found in 2019 that Wallington’s constitutional right to a fair trial had been affected by the delays, but allowed the case to be retried on the basis that any sentence could reflect the ruling.

But he added that the case suffered further delays and should have been treated as a higher priority given the Supreme Court finding.

He also argued that Craig Attridge, the magistrate who sat in the trial on the 2017 charge and the retrial of the 2016 case, could not be seen as unbiased because the cases were heard over the same time period.

Mr Pettingill added: “It is the combination of factors that poisons the well of justice in this case.

“This appellant has been on a journey through the system – these two matters intermingling – from July 5, 2017.”

Mr Pettingill said Wallington had used two different defences in the two cases.

In the 2016 case, she admitted possession but denied intent to supply.

Wallington denied possession entirely in the 2017 case.

Mr Pettingill argued that Wallington’s admission that she smoked cannabis for medical reasons in one case could have tainted the magistrates’ perspective on the second case.

Alan Richards, for the Crown, said the 2016 case and the 2017 case could – and perhaps should – have been joined because the charges were similar and happened just over two months apart from each other.

He added the magistrate could have separately considered the circumstances involved in each charge had they been tried together – and could “compartmentalise” the two.

Mr Richards said: “Anybody reading these two detailed judgments can see clearly that he devoted considerable care and attention to analysing the evidence called in each case.”

He added the Supreme Court had already addressed the problem of delays in the 2016 case and the case was expedited after the ruling.

Mr Richards said the retrial began four months after the Supreme Court’s ruling with the bulk of the case heard over two days in January last year.

He added that the only reason all the evidence was not heard that month was that the defence wanted to submit evidence from a doctor.

Mr Richards said: “She was accepting that she was guilty of possession. She was trying to explain the possession of that quantity of drugs.”

He told the court the medical evidence was put before the court in September 2020 after delays caused by the pandemic, but the evidence did not support the contention she was using cannabis medically when the offence happened.

Mr Richards added: “The only persons who could have appreciated that the evidence was not going to take the case any further is the appellant and their counsel.”

Puisne Judge Shade Subair Williams reserved judgment in the case.

A written decision is expected inside the next six weeks.

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