A constitutional court has nullified the Medical Council's proceedings against doctor and PN MP Stephen Spiteri, after it found they were in breach of his fundamental rights.

In a sentence delivered on Tuesday, Judge Robert Mangion ruled that Spiteri's rights to a fair hearing were breached when the council investigated him for allegedly signing medical certificates without examining patients.

The Medical Council's multiple functions - from investigation to prosecution and issuing penalties - made it a "classic case of a structural lack of objective impartiality," the judge said. 

"It is more than evident that the Medical Council does not satisfy the criteria for objective impartiality since the powers given to it by the law allow it to prosecute [the doctor], and itself summon witnesses to back its accusations, and itself is expected by law to decide on those accusations," Mangion said.

Spiteri filed the constitutional proceedings in 2020, claiming the Medical Council was acting as judge, jury and prosecutor in his case.

The doctor landed under investigation by the council following a story published by Lovin Malta back in 2017, when it was alleged that Spiteri was issuing medical certificates without actually examining the patients first.

In December 2017, Spiteri was asked to forward an explanation to the council about the allegations. 

He submitted an explanation that same December, but no feedback was forthcoming until October 2018, when the doctor was summoned to appear before the medical board to answer charges issued against him by the council.

In the constitutional application, his lawyers argued that the procedures before the board was neither independent nor impartial, with the council’s legal advisor replying to Spiteri's submissions and the complainant, testifying at the hearing and being consulted about what evidence should be brought forward.

Spiteri protested the process but the proceedings continued, in “a shameless and totally imprudent manner,” they said.

In its defence during court hearings, the Medical Council said the proceedings were carried out with utmost independence and impartiality, giving all parties equal opportunities to make their case, and said Spiteri would still have the right to appeal the council's decision in the appeals court.

The council also argued that the 'judge, jury and prosecutor' argument applies to criminal cases, not disciplinary proceedings. It said that the cited articles from the Maltese constitution and the European Convention do not apply to disciplinary proceedings such as this one.

But the judge said a doctor only has the right to take their case to the appeals court in case the council strikes his name off the medical register, and not in case they are suspended for a number of months and when they are fined up to €20,000.

The judge also ordered that a copy of the judgment is sent to the Speaker of Parliament.

Lawyers Duncan Borg Myatt and Victor Scerri represented Spiteri.

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