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Malta: prisoners serving life should be eligible for parole, court rules in landmark judgment
A man sentenced to life in jail over the murder of an elderly couple has won the right to apply for parole in a landmark ruling by the constitutional court.
In a judgment handed down on Thursday afternoon by Judge Joseph R. Micallef, the constitutional court ruled that even persons found guilty of the most horrific crimes should not be stripped of their dignity and the “right to hope” of one day being released from custody.
The court said prisoners on a life sentence should be able to apply for parole after serving a minimum of 25 years. As things stood, all inmates bar those serving a life sentence qualified for parole.
The case was filed by Brian Vella, who was found guilty in a 2007 jury of murdering his elderly neighbours. Vella was condemned to life imprisonment, a punishment confirmed on appeal in 2011.
Vella had gagged and bound 79-year-old Gerald Grima and his 63-year-old wife Josephine in their apartment on 10 February, 2000. The elderly couple died of asphyxiation.
Contrary to the common misconception, in Malta, life imprisonment means the person convicted will never leave prison and is ineligible for parole or early release.
As Vella’s lawyers David Camilleri and Joseph Gatt told MaltaToday: “You die there”.
But this could change as a result of today’s judgment.
“This deprivation of hope amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment,” Vella’s lawyers argued.
The Attorney General had contested the case, insisting that Vella had been granted prison leave on five occasions, which showed that ordinary remedies available to him had worked.
Judge Micallef noted that a breach of Article 3 rights that prohibit inhuman and degrading treatment, had to be considered in light of all the circumstances of the case, together with the physical and moral effects the length of a sentence left on the person.
The court said it recognised the punishment handed down to the accused was for a terrible crime, which robbed two elderly persons of their life during a break-in at their home.
“Person guilty of the worst crimes must not lose his dignity and must retain his right to hope”, Constitutional court.
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