Bill to widen judicial discretion on bail breaches exhibited as evidence in court

Lawyers for a man on bail for murder have pounced on an announcement made in court by the Attorney General that the wording of the law on bail breaches is to be changed

Lawyers for a man on bail for murder have pounced on an announcement made in court by the Attorney General that the wording of the law on bail breaches is to be changed.

Franka Ahmed Rasem was accused of breaching his bail conditions in August last year, Franko had been released on bail in May 2018 after being charged with the murder of a Colombian man in Paceville in 2016.

Whilst on bail for that offence, the man was jailed in 2017 for the attempted rape of a Swedish girl in Paceville which had taken place in 2015. His latest charge is threatening his girlfriend in August 2020.

Were he to be found guilty of breaching bail, Rasem would have to forfeit over €30,000 in bail bonds.

In a court application filed before Madam Justice Consuelo Scerri Herrera last week, Franka’s lawyers Franco Debono and Amadeus Cachia had argued that Section 579 of the Criminal Code “binds the hands of the court and creates arbitrary and disproportionate punishments.”

They argued that the article of the code had been amended in 2015 to include a blanket provision that left the court with no discretion as to whether or not to seize the guarantee and/or deposit in such cases.

This fact breached the fundamental rights of the plaintiff, argued the lawyers, who said that there must be a distinction reflected in the punishment over breaches of “principal bail conditions” and “ancillary ones.”

During oral submissions this morning, the court heard a representative of the Attorney General's Office explain – and exhibit a draft Bill to the effect- that the wording of the law was going to change in such a way as to make it discretionary on the court to impose the seizure of the guarantee and deposit. The Bill changes 579(2) of the Code to read “and the court shall order that the sum stated in the bail bond shall be forfeited in full or in part to the Government of Malta according to the Court’s assessment of the gravity of the offence.”

The implications for the criminal justice system are hard to overstate. If upheld, the arguments would be a game-changer for breach of bail cases, of which there are many.

The Bill lists its “Objects and Reasons” as being “the allowance of a wider margin of judicial discretion with regard to the forfeiture of bail bonds in cases where the Court finds that the infringement of the bail conditions was not of such gravity to merit the forfeiture of the full amount.”

The Bill was tabled in Parliament on 18 February. 

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