The Magistrates Court on Friday afternoon issued a warrant for the arrest of a Spanish fisherman accused of fishing with nets in British waters off Gibraltar, reversing a different decision it had made just hours earlier.
Jonathan Sanchez, owner of the vessel Mi Daniela, faces charges under Gibraltar’s conservation and navigation laws and was summonsed earlier this year but did not turn up to his court hearing earlier on Friday morning.
The warrant means the fisherman faces arrest if he returns to Gibraltar waters.
But the situation is far from clear after a day filled with confusion and mixed decisions in court.
Initially during the morning hearing, the lay magistrates had ordered the summons to be served again by registered mail, with a new court date set for February 2, 2024.
The court sometimes takes this step to ensure a defendant’s failure to appear is not due to any practical issue relating to the prior service of the summons, which is usually by standard mail.
But hours after the initial ruling, the case was recalled to court where the lay bench was informed by the Crown that the summons had in fact been served by hand by RGP officers on October 27, as well as sent by mail before that.
With official confirmation that the fisherman had been served, the court took the standard step when a defendant fails to appear for a summons and issued a warrant for arrest backed by bail.
The warrant means that Mr Sanchez faces arrest if he returns to Gibraltar waters, risking a flare-up in cross-border relations at a time when the UK, Gibraltar, Spain and the EU are preparing to resume negotiations for a UK/EU treaty on the Rock’s future relations with the bloc.
But in another twist, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Christian Rocca, intervened late on Friday over concerns about the procedure followed in court.
Mr Rocca’s intervention means the case will now have to go back before the Magistrates Court to carefully review the facts and procedure followed in reaching both rulings on Friday.
“The DPP has directed that an application be made by the Crown for the matter be re-listed before the Magistrates Court to ensure, with such notice as may be possible in the circumstances to the defendant, that the process followed stands up to the rigorous scrutiny applicable in all aspects of the criminal justice system in Gibraltar,” No.6 Convent Place said in a statement.
“The DPP has brought this development to the attention of the Commissioner of Police to ensure that execution of the warrant is not proceeded with until such time as the court has all facts and matters, including procedural concerns, before it and determines how the matter should progress.”
Ahead of the Friday hearing, Mr Sanchez had told journalists he would not appear before the court.
He said Spain regards those waters as Spanish and that, under Spanish legislation, fishing with nets is legal and therefore he is doing nothing wrong.
On Thursday, Spanish media reported that Mr Sanchez had been told by the Spanish Government that the waters around Gibraltar were “subject only to Spanish laws”.
He interpreted that as Madrid supporting his argument that he need not appear before the court.
However, the Chronicle understands the Spanish Government had simply set out its traditional position on the waters, without offering any guidance as to whether he should appear before the court in Gibraltar.
For the past few weeks, the fishing vessel ‘Mi Daniela’, which is based in La Linea, has been fishing north of Gibraltar opposite Sotogrande.