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Woman cleared of drugs charges after court rules there was appearance of bias

A woman walked free from court after a Supreme Court judge ruled that two convictions for possession of cannabis with intent to supply were unsafe.

Puisne Judge Shade Subair Williams said the same magistrate should not have presided over the two cases because an appearance of bias tainted both judgments.

Mrs Justice Subair Williams highlighted that Rebecca Wallington was found guilty in January 2021 in a case that predated the offence she was convicted of in November 2020.

She said in a written judgment that the “prejudicial effect of the appearance of judicial bias … taints both cases”.

Mrs Justice Subair also ruled out a retrial on either charge because of the “inordinate delay” to Ms Wallington’s trial on the 2017 charges, and an earlier finding of “unconstitutional delay” in her trial on the 2016 charges.

She wrote: “I find that it would be unfair and wrong in all circumstances to order a retrial”.

Ms Wallington, 45, of Southampton, was charged with possession of 418g of cannabis with intent to supply in November 2016 and convicted in January 2021.

She was also charged with the same offences in connection with 857g of the drug in January 2017 but convicted in November 2020.

Magistrate Craig Attridge sat in both cases.

Mrs Justice Subair Williams heard that the 2016 case was subjected to repeated delays and the Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that Ms Wallington’s constitutional right to a fair trial had suffered as a result — although the court ruled that she could stand trial a second time.

The ruling, handed down on Friday, agreed with Ms Wallington’s contention that Mr Attridge should not have served as magistrate on the two similar cases.

Mrs Justice Subair Williams noted that Mr Attridge had ruled against the defendant on the 2017 cannabis charges in November 2020, and against Ms Wallington two months later on the 2016 charges.

She highlighted that Mr Attridge had found that Ms Wallington had not given “honest or credible” evidence in both cases.

Mrs Justice Subair Williams wrote: “It is to be noted that the issue of credibility was not wholly determinative of the magistrate’s final decision.

“Notwithstanding, it was a significant, if not pivotal issue.

“In my judgment, an informed and fair-minded observer would surely find that there is a real risk that the magistrate would have been partial to his earlier opinion of Ms Wallington’s lack of honesty and credibility in one case when assessing the question of her truthfulness and credibility in the latter case.”

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