Bail conditions breached fundamental human rights
Bail conditions imposed on a man described by a court as being "in dire straits" have been found to be in violation of his fundamental human right to freedom from arrest.
Mr Justice Anthony Ellul heard that Osita Anagboso Obi had been arrested on March 11, 2010 on his arrival at Malta International Airport and charged with money laundering. Bail was granted against a number of conditions, including a deposit of €10,000 and a guarantee of €10,000.
Mr Obi asked for the bail to be reduced due to his poor financial means and the Magistrates’ Court reduced the deposit to €7,000, and later to €6,000.
But Mr Obi remained in custody as he claimed he did not have the means to pay this reduced deposit.
Mr Obi then claimed that his continual detention was in violation to his right to release from arrest. He further claimed that his right to a fair trial within a reasonable time had been violated.
Mr Justice Ellul said the bail conditions imposed by the court were intended to serve as a deterrent to the accused from absconding from the country. Mr Obi had no ties with Malta and had family in Germany.
The court added that it was hard to conceive that in a small country such as Malta, where escape by sea without endangering one's life was unlikely and where air trial was subject to strict control, that the authorities could not have at their disposal measures other than the accused’s continual protracted detention.
The inability on the part of the authorities to adequately monitor movements in and out of Malta could not be used to keep a person accused of an offence in detention.
Mr Justice Ellul declared he had no doubt that had Mr Obi been in possession of the bail deposit of €6,000 he would have immediately paid it.
Furthermore, Mr Obi had been in custody for more than 28 months.
The court was of the opinion that the repercussions which Mr Obi would face if he absconded from Malta served as a more effective safeguard than the deposit of €6,000.
If what the accused claimed in his statement was true, namely that he had acted as a courier of €31,500 and had got into all this trouble to receive €500, then he was truly in dire straits.
The insistence on the part of the courts for Mr Obi to pay €6,000 to be released from bail was tantamount to denying him release on bail which was in violation of his fundamental human rights.
The court, however, dismissed Mr Obi's claim that he had not been granted a fair trial within a reasonable time.
The case against Mr Obi involved evidence from overseas and this information had not yet been received by the prosecution. The Magistrates Court was advised by Mr Justice Ellul to establish the reasons for the delay in receiving information from abroad and whether the Attorney General had taken measures to expedite matters.