Daniel Holmes to file human rights case against Malta

Daniel Holmes’s lawyers say Malta’s drug laws, disparity in sentencing, Attorney General’s discretion violated Welshman’s right to fair trial and effective remedy.

In 2013, an appeals’ court confirmed a 10-and-a-half-year sentence for the cultivation of cannabis- a judgment that triggered protests at Malta’s severe drug laws.
In 2013, an appeals’ court confirmed a 10-and-a-half-year sentence for the cultivation of cannabis- a judgment that triggered protests at Malta’s severe drug laws.

Nearly nine years after Daniel Holmes was arrested in his Gozo apartment following a cannabis find, his tumultuous and infamous battle with the Maltese courts is set for another round as the Welshman is now expected to file a case against Malta in the European Court of Human Rights.

The case, which is currently in the process of being filed by Holmes’s defence counsel, will, amongst others, attack Malta’s “archaic and unconstitutional” drug laws, the Attorney General’s discretion, the disparity in sentencing, as well as the court’s lengthy proceedings.

Speaking to MaltaToday, Holmes’s defence counsel, lawyers Franco Debono and Michela Spiteri, explained that the case will call on the Strasbourg court to rule that Holmes’s rights to fair trial and effective remedy had been breached by the Maltese courts.

Daniel Alexander Holmes, 36, of Newport, Wales, is currently serving a ten-and-a-half-year sentence for cannabis cultivation – a judgment that triggered protests at Malta’s severe drug laws. His appeal in 2013 was rejected, while in October a landmark judgment by the Constitutional Court ruled that Holmes’s “right to fair trial had been breached,” and more poignantly, the judge ruled that Malta’s drug laws – specifically, Article 22(1) of the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance – were unconstitutional.

However, any glimmer of hope – as well as the ‘paltry’ €7,000 compensation that Holmes was awarded – were quashed as a constitutional court of appeal revoked the first court’s judgment and ruled that the Welshman’s rights were not breached by trial delays.

Upholding the Attorney General’s appeal, the Constitutional court found that even though the case took longer than “was strictly necessary,” the delay was not tantamount to a breach of Holmes’s right to a fair trial. Moreover, the court held that the delay could be attributed to several factors, including the prosecution’s summoning of several witnesses, Holmes’s initial not guilty plea, as well as the court’s “limited resources.”

The latest judgment means that Holmes has exhausted all legal remedies and he can now take his case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Speaking to MaltaToday, lawyer Michela Spiteri explained that Holmes's legal team has six months to prepare the case and that the necessary paperwork and details are being ironed out before the case is filed.

Lawyer Franco Debono also explained that the case will call on the European Court of Human Rights to declare that his client’s fundamental human rights had been violated because of the unreasonable delay in the proceedings against him and because of the unfettered discretion of the Attorney General - to decide whether an accused person would face a trial by jury or proceedings before the Magistrate’s court - violated his client’s right to an adequate remedy.

The Attorney General’s unfettered discretion has already been the central issue at the centre of numerous other cases. The bone of contention lies at the fact an accused may face up to ten years in prison before a magistrate’s court but life in prison in a trial by jury – a disparity the European Court of Human Rights has already ruled as being in violation of the fundamental human right against arbitrary punishment.

Holmes will also attack the “unjust and unreasonable” delays, as his case, which goes back to June 2006, was only concluded in 2010 when the Attorney General issued the bill of indictment against him. Moreover, the case was then again delayed until October 2013 after an appeals’ court upheld the first court’s judgment.

The case will also attack the right to legal assistance and disclosure for suspects, the legal aid system, and the disparity in sentencing between Holmes and other accused who had larger quantities of drugs.

Speaking to MaltaToday, Debono – who is also the president of the Law Commission – held that he is “optimistic” that the Strasbourg court would rectify the grievances by the Maltese courts and that Holmes would be afforded an adequate remedy.

Debono also argued that notwithstanding the fact that the law introducing a suspect’s right to a lawyer during interrogation, previous suspects who were victims before the law came in force still remain without any remedy – effectively meaning that the law, and the numerous landmark judgments confirming the suspect’s right, were of no help.

Nine years and counting …

Holmes’s case dates back to June 2006 when a search in Holmes’s Gozo apartment yielded around one kilogram of dried cannabis leaves and 0.24g of cannabis resin.

In November 2011, Holmes admitted to five charges of drug possession and trafficking – four of which carried a life sentence – and was jailed for 10 years and fined €23,000 after facing five charges of drug possession and trafficking, four of which carried a life sentence, related to the discovery of a cannabis plant in his Gozo home.

Holmes admitted to all charges ahead of a trial by jury, but has insisted that the drugs were for his personal use. The decision was confirmed on appeal in 2013.

In his statement to the police, Holmes had claimed Barry Lee was an accomplice and that he had taken responsibility of what was found at his residence. Lee committed suicide in prison in 2008.