A request by the Lithuanian authorities for the extradition of a Maltese man has been quashed by the Constitutional Court, which declared today that there were "substantial grounds to believe" that the man could face a real risk of inhuman and degrading treatment if extradited.
Angelo Frank Spiteri had been arrested and arraigned in December 2015 on the strength of a European Arrest Warrant. He is wanted to face charges of swindling, falsification of documents and fraud.
A magistrate's court had upheld the request for extradition in spite of the objections raised by the man's lawyers who stressed the "terrible conditions " faced by inmates inside Lithuanian remand prisons.
This decision was later confirmed on appeal, spurring Mr Spiteri to file a constitutional case claiming that if he were to be extradited he could face a possible violation of his right to protection from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment.
The First Hall, Civil Court, in its constitutional jurisdiction, presided by Madame Justice Jacqueline Padovani Grima, declared that its decision depended upon the determination of two crucial factors. It had to be sufficiently proved that the "terrible conditions" inside Lithuanian prisons did exist and that there was a real risk of breach of fundamental rights of the applicant.
In spite of the Attorney General's arguments that the Lithuanian government had signed a document in 2014 binding itself to improve the conditions within its prisons, the court observed that the European Court of Human Rights had pronounced itself against the conditions faced by inmates of Lithuanian prisons. There was no guarantee that Mr Spiteri would not face a similar fate.
The court declared that it was convinced that there was "objective, reliable, specific and properly updated" proof of systematic shortcomings in detention conditions in Lithuania.
The defence had produced evidence related to three remand prisons, together with a report drawn up by a Lithuanian legal expert. These were backed by ECHR judgments, decisions by the Vilnius Regional Court and a report by the Committee for the Prevention of Torture.
The court noted that the state was bound to prevent such possible breach of fundamental human rights. For this reason, the court revoked and annulled the earlier judgments declaring that the extradition could result in a violation of the man's fundamental rights.
Inspector Mario Cuschieri prosecuted.
Lawyers Jason Azzopardi, Kris Busietta, Eve Borg Costanzi, and Julian Farrugia were defence counsel.
Meanwhile Dr Azzopardi protested this evening that the prison authorities were refusing to release the man in spite of the court decision, arguing that the judgment is not clear.
Dr Busietta filed an urgent application in court for the man's release.