A legal provision allowing unpaid court fines to be converted into prison time is not unconstitutional, a judge has ruled, throwing out a case filed by a convicted drug trafficker who has been unable to pay his fines within the stipulated time.
The case was filed by Gordon Micallef, who in 2019 was jailed for three years after being found guilty of trafficking ecstasy pills on two separate occasions.
Micallef was fined €4,300 and asked to pay an additional €10,500 for breaching the conditions of his bail.
In a court application Micallef argued that it was not possible for him to pay the fines while he was in prison, adding that since leaving prison, he had found it difficult to find employment despite his best efforts.
According to Maltese law, court fines need to be paid within three years of the date of sentencing, which Micallef’s lawyers argue put financially well-off individuals at an advantage over those unable to pay.
The lawyer also argued that the discrepancy in prison time for unpaid fines and unpaid bail guarantees was arbitrary and in breach of Micallef’s right to a fair hearing.
In handing down judgment, the court observed that the law was clear and predictable. Both the European Convention on Human Rights and the Maltese Constitution allowed for individuals failing to abide by a court order to be detained.
The court also noted that the maximum time one could spend in prison over unpaid fines was capped at six months.
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