High bail deposit breached right to liberty for Sicilian drug trafficking suspect

Gaetano Campailla has been charged with importing 10kg of cannabis into Malta in November 2018

A fibre optic camera inserted into the car's door panels revealed the hidden cannabis
A fibre optic camera inserted into the car's door panels revealed the hidden cannabis

A court has reduced to €7,500 a €25,000 bail deposit required from a man accused of importing drugs from Sicily who claimed breached his human rights as he had no means of affording it.

In her decision on a constitutional reference, handed down on April 17, Madam Justice Miriam Hayman, presiding the First Hall of the Civil Court in its Constitutional jurisdiction sent the acts of the case against Gaetano Campailla back to the referring court to take cognizance of this fact.

Campailla stands charged with importing 10kg of cannabis into Malta in November 2018. The drugs were found stashed in the door panels of his car as he disembarked the ferry from Sicily.

A request for bail filed by the Sicilian was upheld by the Criminal Court in April 2019, where Campailla was granted release from arrest against a deposit of €25,000 and a personal guarantee of €25,000.

A month later, he had requested a reduction of the bail amount, arguing that he had insufficient means to pay the deposit. His mother offered to deposit all she could afford - €5,000 - in the court to secure bail for the man, whose assets had all been frozen as a result of the drug trafficking charges.

The court had turned down this request and three other subsequent ones, citing the gravity of the crime and the likelihood of him absconding as justification for doing so.

Campailla had then filed a constitutional reference, claiming his fundamental human rights were being breached.

In her decision on the matter, Madam Justice Hayman examined the landmark cases which dealt with the issues at hand.

She made reference to the “milestone decision” by the European Court of Human Rights in Neumeister vs Austria stating that the bail guarantee must “be assessed principally by reference to [the accused], his assets and his relationship with the persons who are to provide the security”.

In the case of Campailla, the “onerous” conditions imposed by the Magistrates’ Court effectively meant that it was impossible for the accused to meet the fixed sum. 

The court had failed to take note of the accused’s means, as detailed in the recovery asset report, observed the judge, also noting that the AG had objected even when the accused had offered the sum of €5,000 which his mother was willing to pay, arguing that the source of those funds was not proved and that the accused’s mother had not been cross-examined to ensure that she was fully aware of her obligations as guarantor.

Malta’s courts had to consider the accused’s means when fixing the bail bond so as to ensure that it was effective and appropriate, Madam Justice Hayman ruled, pointing out that there was no point in a court granting bail but setting a deposit that was beyond the accused’s reach.

This produced a situation which was effectively a denial of bail, the court said.

On the other hand, the accused had to give the court a “clear picture” of his financial means, something which Campailla had not done, the court observed.

On the basis of these considerations, the court ruled that the €25,000 bail deposit was too burdensome and effectively amounted to a breach of the applicant’s right to protection from arbitrary arrest or detention.

Following that ruling, Campailla’s lawyers had filed another court application before the court of Magistrates for the deposit to be lowered in line with the decision but the Attorney General had once again objected, insisting that the deposit should not be reduced below €10,000.

In a decision on the matter, Magistrate Natasha Galea Sciberras changed his bail conditions, lowering the deposit to €7,500 while doubling his personal guarantee to €50,000.

Lawyers Arthur Azzopardi, Alfred Abela and Rene Darmanin are assisting the accused.