Chief Justice Anthony Dudley yesterday rebuked prosecutors for failing to progress an immigration matter, leaving three Moroccan migrants to languish in jail for two months.
The judge warned that if the case does not go to a hearing within the next week he will grant the men bail.
In doing so, he noted the high probability that the men will flee the jurisdiction for Spain.
This comes after defence barrister Patrick Canessa brought an appeal to the Supreme Court seeking to challenge the decision of the lower court in refusing to grant the men bail.
The men have been held on remand at HM Windmill Hill prison for two months when the maximum sentence for such an offence is three months custody.
The three men, together with four juveniles, were rescued at sea earlier this year.
All seven had been attempting to cross the straits to find work in Spain.
The case once again places a spotlight on how the authorities in Gibraltar deal with complex cases involving migrants who cross the Strait of Gibraltar in search of a better life.
After hearing the outline of Mr Canessa’s appeal and the background to the case, Mr Justice Dudley said the Crown had “played the long game” and “taken forever” to progress the matter.
“It’s not rocket science to establish if the defendants have valid permits and progress the matter to hearing,” Mr Justice Dudley said adding that prosecutors need to turn these types of cases around within two to three weeks.
“This is the sort of case that would probably take 15 minutes to be dealt with,” he said adding “but instead we are here two months later invoking the criminal law rather than dealing with it for what it is – an immigration matter.”
“What I do have is a criminal matter before me today,” the judge said as he questioned how he would ensure that the defendants appear before the court for trial should he grant them bail.
“We all know what is going to happen, don’t we?” he said.
While the three men have been held on remand since they were fished from the sea on July 28, four juveniles who were among their number were bailed into the care of the Care Agency.
But only one remains in Gibraltar, the other three having fled into Spain.
“It is certainly a high possibility [that the men would abscond]” Mr Canessa said as he flagged the alternative – keeping the men on remand indefinitely for a matter they would be unlikely to receive a custodial sentence for.
Without disposing of the appeal, Mr Justice Dudley adjourned the matter for a further week.
He indicated that should the Crown fail to progress the matter to a hearing in that time he would consider granting the men bail.
“If it is not progressed, my very strong tentative view is that…I may very well be looking to grant bail.”
The case was adjourned until Thursday October 5.