Bail conditions breached Nigerian’s human rights
Nigerian in custody for over 28 months
A judge ruled yesterday that a person could not be held in detention just because the authorities had problems monitoring movement in and out of the country.
Mr Justice Anthony Ellul ordered the revocation of a €6,000 bail deposit imposed on a Nigerian national facing money laundering charges.
The judge was hearing a constitutional reference made by the Magistrates’ Court to the First Hall of the Civil Court (in its constitutional jurisdiction) in the course of criminal proceedings filed by the police against Osita Anagboso Obi.
Mr Justice Ellul heard that Mr Obi had been arrested on March 11, 2010 on his arrival at the airport. He was arraigned and faced money laundering charges. Bail was granted under certain 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 deposit was cut to €7,000 and later to €6,000.
But Mr Obi still was unable to make the deposit and he remained in custody.
He claimed that his continual detention was in violation of his right to release from arrest.
His right to a fair trial within a reasonable time had also been violated, Mr Obi argued.
Mr Justice Ellul said that bail conditions 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 judge added that it was hard to conceive that in a small country like Malta, where escape by sea without endangering one’s life was unlikely and where air travel was subject to strict control, the authorities could not have at their disposal measures other than the accused person’s continual protracted detention.
The inability on the part of the authorities to adequately monitor movements in and out of Malta could not be invoked to keep a person accused of an offence in detention.
Mr Justice Ellul declared that he had no doubt that had Mr Obi had the money to make the deposit he would have immediately paid the sum. The bail deposit was a minimal amount when one considered that payment would mean no further pre-trial detention. Furthermore, Mr Obi had been in custody for more than 28 months.
The court felt that the consequences that Mr Obi would face if he absconded from Malta were 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 involving a sum of €31,500 and had gone through all this trouble for €500, then he was truly in dire straits, the judge noted.
The insistence by the courts for Mr Obi to deposit €6,000 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 required from overseas and this had not yet been received by the prosecution.
Mr Justice Ellul advised the Magistrates’ Court to find out what was causing the delay in receiving the evidence from abroad and whether the Attorney General had taken measures to expedite matters.