Judge rejects Leisure Clothing directors’ request to suspend sentence until Constitutional case conclusion

Judge turns down request by company directors to suspend prison sentence handed to them until outcome of Constitutional case

The former Leisure Clothing factory in Żejtun
The former Leisure Clothing factory in Żejtun

A judge has turned down a request to suspend a prison sentence handed to the directors of Leisure Clothing, pending the outcome of a Constitutional case in which they claim their fundamental rights were breached.

The Chinese-owned company’s managing director Han Bin and marketing director Jia Liu, were sentenced to imprisonment for six years last January after a judge upheld the State’s appeal against Han’s non-custodial sentence and Jia’s outright acquittal.

The two company officials, as well as the company itself, had been found guilty on appeal of exploiting Vietnamese and Chinese employees at the Bulebel-based factory,  forcing them to work long days with few to no breaks, in poor conditions.

Han and Jia subsequently filed a Constitutional case, claiming procedural shortcomings in  the case against them had led to a breach of their fair trial rights. Amongst the grounds cited by the men was the timing of the Bill of Indictment, which they claim had been issued late and that the two officials had been sentenced for crimes committed by the company, which had also been punished.

Together with the Constitutional case, Han, Jia and Leisure Clothing Ltd had filed a request for an interim measure that would suspend the execution of the Court of Criminal Appeal’s January sentence and consequently release them from prison until the conclusion of the Constitutional proceedings.

In his judgement refusing the request this morning, Mr. Justice Ian Spiteri Bailey observed that the required elements for a successful request for an interim measure, namely urgency and the prospect of irreparable harm had not been proven. The courts normally issue remedies such as interim measures in exceptional cases where the person requesting them is facing an imminent and serious risk of irreversible harm.

Stressing several times that its decision at this stage was only about the necessity of an interim measure, and not the merits or central claim of fair trial breaches, the court said that the requirement of serious risk of irreversible harm should the measure not be granted was “completely absent.”

Quoting the Constitutional Court’s judgement in the case filed by Republlika against the State Advocate, the judge that the aim of an interim measure should not be to provide the requested remedy before the claim is decided, and neither was it meant to have the court pronounce itself on the merits of a case at an early stage of Constitutional proceedings.

The onus was on the plaintiffs to prove their assertions, even at face value, that the interim measure was necessary, said the judge, ruling that they had not succeeded in doing so.

The court also noted that it did not anticipate this being a long court case, as the parties had already agreed on how the case would proceed, which further demonstrated the lack of urgent need for the “drastic and exceptional measure” requested.

The judge rejected the request with costs to the plaintiffs.

Lawyer Jose Herrera declared that no appeal would be filed from this decree, but reserved the right to file a similar request in future should these proceedings take longer than expected.

The case was adjourned to June, for the Director of the Department of Industrial and Employment Relations to testify about documents from other, related, proceedings, which the lawyers insist were not in the case file.


Before 2014 Leisure Clothing had been a major textile manufacturer in Malta, sewing garments for well-known fashion brands like Emporio Armani and Karen Millen. Owned by Chinese firm CICET, the factory had closed in 2017 after the two directors’ arrests.

In October 2014 a number of the Bulebel factory's Vietnamese employees had been arrested while attempting to leave the island with false Italian identity documents. The workers had told the police that they had not been paid the agreed wages and resorted to using fake documents because their passports had been withheld by the company.

A police investigation followed, leading to charges against Han Bin, Jia Liu and the company itself.

During the compilation of evidence, a string of Vietnamese employees had told the court how they would only receive €200-€300 monthly – half of the amount they had been promised, and well below the minimum wage – for working 12 hours a day, seven days a week and had their passports confiscated by the company upon their arrival.

Lawyers Maurizio Cordina and Miguel De Gabriele are representing the Office of the State Advocate in these proceedings.

Han Bin and Jia Liu are being represented by lawyers Jose Herrera, Jason Azzopardi, Therese Comodini Cachia and Pio Valletta.