Court of Appeal sides with Costa in Marrache parole case
The Court of Appeal has ruled that Justice Minister Neil Costa was within his rights to withdraw a court application he filed in the controversial Marrache parole case.
The court added, however, that given the public interest in high profile cases of this nature, such decisions should be formally and openly explained.
The case arose last year after the Parole Board, following Gibraltar law, granted parole to convicted fraudster Isaac Marrache after he had served a third of his sentence.
Mr Costa had initially objected to that decision and asked the Supreme Court to review it, only to withdraw the application after receiving fresh information a day before the court was to consider the matter.
Supreme Court Judge Adrian Jack ruled last February that the Justice Minister did not have the power to withdraw the application once it was before the court, adding that such a move could open up a Justice Minister to possible undue influence and interference.
But Mr Costa challenged that ruling last March.
His lawyer, Lord Pannick, QC, one of the UK’s leading barristers, appeared before the Court of Appeal and argued the minister had “ample power” to release Marrache.
In a judgement handed down yesterday, the Court of Appeal agreed with that assessment.
In the judgement, Sir Maurice Kay said he was satisfied that the minister had the power to withdraw the application, adding that fears of political pressure or lobbying “had been exaggerated”.
“The mere fact that representations can be made to the Minister, one way or another, should not be equiparated with improper influence,” Sir Maurice said in a written judgement.
“As this case illustrates, it can be helpful for the Minister to receive material of which he was unaware during the short seven day period within which any application to the Court has to be made.”
“If, in a different case, there were to be evidence of the Minister having been influenced by inappropriate pressure or ulterior considerations, his decision to withdraw would be amenable to judicial review.”
Sir Maurice later added: “It would be counterintuitive if the Minister was unable to reconsider his decision to apply to the court once he had seen and been advised on the material.”
However Sir Maurice, who heard the case alongside fellow appeal judges Goldring and Moore-Bick, said an application by the Justice Minister for a court to review a parole decision – and a decision to withdraw it – were matters of public interest.
This was particularly so in a high profile case such as the one involving the Marrache brothers.
“Accordingly, it seems to me that it is incumbent upon the Minister, on notice to the interested parties, to announce the withdrawal of his application in open court, giving brief reasons,” he said in the judgement.
The Marrache brothers defrauded in excess of £29m from their solicitor’s firm Marrache & Co.
The three brothers were sentenced in July 2014 with Solomon Marrache granted parole last August after serving a third of his seven year sentence.
Isaac Marrache served over two and a half years of his seven year jail term for conspiracy to defraud and was granted parole on January 12.
Benjamin Marrache continues to serve his 11 year jail term at Windmill Hill Prison.