Detention 'breached human rights'
The long detention of a man who has been awaiting a drug trial has been found in "flagrant breach" of the European Convention of Human Rights.
In a judgment yesterday, the European Court of Human Rights recommended that 63-year-old Lawrence Gatt, of Senglea, who has been in detention for four years, be released immediately.
In 2001, Mr Gatt was charged with drug trafficking and was granted bail on a personal guarantee of €23,300 while restrictions were placed on his leaving his residence.
He breached the conditions so bail was revoked and he was re-arrested. Because he could not afford to pay the guarantee, in July 2006, the court converted the outstanding €23,300 into 2000 days in prison.
Mr Gatt appealed to the Constitutional Court but his case was rejected but he then went to the ECHR in Strasbourg, which has upheld his complaint ruling that his detention was "in flagrant breach" of his human rights.
The seven-judge chamber ruled that Mr Gatt, who had been under strict bail conditions for nearly five years - presumably without being able to earn a living - could not have been realistically expected to comply with the guarantee and fulfil the relevant obligation. In the circumstances, his detention, especially taking into account its duration, had been disproportionate.
The court pointed to two deficiencies in the law and its application in Mr Gatt's case. It had made no distinction between a breach of bail conditions related to his appearance at trial and other, less serious, considerations such as a curfew. And it had not put a ceiling on the duration of detention, "nor had it made any assessment of proportionality".
The ECHR said the Maltese courts had failed to strike a balance between the importance in a democratic society of securing the fulfilment of the obligation in question and the importance of the right to liberty, in violation of Article 5/1 of the convention.