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Drugs case dismissed after seven-year wait

Judgment delivered on Edward Albuoy (File photograph)

A judge has dismissed drug charges against a man after the Department of Public Prosecutions failed to convict him over seven years and two trials.

Puisne Judge Mark Pettingill yesterday stayed charges against Edward Albuoy, 30, when he reasoned that an attempt to prosecute him for a third time would be “unfair” and amount to an abuse of process.

In particular, he said that Mr Albuoy had been “deprived of his right to a fair trial at a reasonable time”.

Mr Justice Pettingill further stated that he had lost his right to the counsel of his choice during this time.

Mr Albuoy, from Southampton, denied charges of importing MDMA — commonly known as ecstasy — cannabis and cannabis resin to Bermuda, as well as three counts of having them with intent to supply.

Mr Justice Pettingill said that the 2017 charges were “relatively straightforward,” with Mr Albuoy maintaining that he had no knowledge that the drugs were in his luggage.

However, he said that settling the case had been delayed for “a plethora of reasons”, including the Covid-19 pandemic and complications with legal aid.

Mr Justice Pettingill said that the latter problem became the subject of a judicial review after the Legal Aid Office failed to give Mr Albuoy a certificate of legal representation for nine months.

Mr Albuoy’s case became the subject of two trials — one in March 2019, which ended in a hung jury, and another last year that ended in a mistrial over what Mr Justice Pettingill described as “a bizarre debacle over the handling of exhibits in the case”.

“The public right enshrined in our Constitution to have a trial of a reasonable time must be of paramount consideration,” Mr Justice Pettingill said. “Particularly in straightforward non-complex cases, as this one appeared to be.

He said it was “indeed telling” that on the second trial a juror had commented: “I couldn’t be fair, it’s just been so long since the events occurred.”

Mr Justice Pettingill said that the delays were potentially owing to the lack of government funding.

Quoting from a separate judgment over a case that faced a similar delay, Mr Justice Pettingill said: “It is plain that states cannot blame unacceptable delays on the general want of prosecutors or judges, but on chronic underfunding of the legal system.

“It is, generally speaking, common of states to organise their legal systems to ensure that reasonable time required is honoured.

"In my judgment, there are a number of aspects of this case that candidly reflect the abject failures of successive governments and administrations in this country to prioritise a properly functioning justice system, particularly the criminal justice system, which has been treated as the proverbial stepchild for decades."

Mr Justice Pettingill thanked counsel for their commitment to the case and formally dismissed all charges against Mr Albuoy.

When approached after the ruling, Mr Albuoy said: “I’m just grateful.”

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