Libyan teens, jailed for using false passports, granted bail pending appeal

Libyan teenagers who had been jailed after admitting to using false documents to leave Malta have been granted bail pending an appeal against their six-month prison sentence

Libyan teenagers who had been jailed after admitting to using false documents to leave Malta have been granted bail pending an appeal against their six-month prison sentence.

The boys, aged 16 and 17, had filed a request for bail pending their appeal against a six-month prison sentence which they had been handed earlier this month, upon their admission of guilt to charges of using Two fake ID cards to leave Malta.

The Court of Criminal Appeal had given the Attorney General two days to reply and set a date for the case to be heard on 15 December.

In his submissions, the AG had objected to the request for bail, arguing that the men were accused of grave offences against border security, amongst other grounds.

In a decision handed down yesterday, Madam Justice Consuelo Scerri Herrera observed that the European Court of Human Rights had established that the gravity of the alleged offences committed by a person accused alone is not sufficient reason to justify long periods of detention under arrest.

The AG had argued that there was a real fear of the accused men absconding as they had been arrested at the airport. Defence lawyer Jason Grima rebutted this argument, however, emphasising that the coronavirus pandemic made it very hard for the applicants to leave the island.

Citing several judgments of the ECHR, the judge noted that it had been established that where the only remaining reasons for continued detention is the fear that the accused will abscond and thereby avoid appearing for trial, his release pending trial must be ordered if it is possible to obtain from him guarantees that will ensure his appearance.

The defence summoned a relative of one of the accused, a Malta resident, who testified on 15 December, telling the court that he had arrived with the accused on 3 August on a flight from Libya. One of the boys is his nephew, and the other was a young man from their village, he said. He testified that they were living at Hal Far Tent Village and were still waiting for a decision on their refugee status. El Kur promised the court that he was prepared to accompany the men to court for every sitting in the case against them. For this reason, the court said that it was satisfied that there were sufficient guarantees that the applicants would attend court when required to.

The judge also ruled that she was not of the opinion that the men’s release would prejudice the administration of justice, as had been argued by the AG.

Making reference to recent judgments dealing with the detention of parents with very young dependents, including that of Rabia Yavuz and Muzekka Deneri, whilst noting that the accused are minors, the court observed that they were in a foreign land, far from their parents and facing criminal proceedings. An experience of incarceration on top of all that, more so before a final sentence is handed down, would translate into a life-affecting trauma, said the judge.

Bail was granted against strict conditions, in view of the “very particular circumstances” of this case, with the boys being ordered not to change their place of residence without court permission, sign a bail book, observe a strict curfew and surrender any travel documents. The accused were also forbidden from boarding seacraft of any form or attempt to leave the Maltese islands. The boys were bound by a €2000 personal guarantee. A similar guarantee was imposed on the boys’ uncle.

Inspector Christian Abela is prosecuting, assisted by lawyer Etienne Savona from the Office of the Attorney General.

Lawyer Jason Grima appeared for the men.