Disbarred lawyer Patrick Spiteri had his fundamental rights breached when, upon his extradition to Malta from the UK, he was kept under arrest for several months even though no national arrest warrant had been issued, a court has declared.
Spiteri, who is facing fraud and misappropriation charges to the tune of some €7.4 million over a case dating back to 2008, had filed constitutional proceedings over his detention.
The issue stemmed from the fact that while criminal proceedings were ongoing, Spiteri had absconded and was eventually forced back to Malta on the strength of a European Arrest Warrant following a three-year absence. He was arrested in the UK and subsequently brought to Malta following an investigation by The Sunday Times of Malta that tracked down.
Spiteri claimed that his detention in Malta and later bail conditions which effectively barred him from going abroad for work every now and again, meant that his right to freedom was breached.
Madam Justice Anna Felice, presiding over the First Hall, Civil Court in its constitutional jurisdiction, confirmed that the only arrest warrant was that issued on October 20, 2014, and that was the European Arrest Warrant.
This meant that Spiteri was correct in stating that no national arrest warrant had ever been issued in his regard.
A European Arrest Warrant was to be preceded by an arrest warrant issued by local authorities for the requested person, namely Spiteri to be detained upon his return to Malta, as outlined in the manual published in the EU Official Journal.
In light of such principles, the court declared that Spiteri’s arrest between May and December 2017 was illegal and in breach of his fundamental right to liberty.
Consequent to that, his right to free movement as safeguarded under the European Convention on Human Rights was also breached, since one of the ensuing bail conditions barred him from leaving the island for work-related trips.
Although he had not contested his detention at the first sitting after his return, that did not mean that Spiteri had renounced to his rights, observed the court.
However, whilst declaring that his detention had been unjustified and illegal, to revoke all conditions on his freedom of movement was not deemed in “the best interests of justice,” given the particular circumstances of the case.
Whether Spiteri may be granted permission to travel abroad pending criminal proceedings, after he had absconded for three years, was not a matter to be decided by this court, declared Madam Justice Felice.
Whilst declaring the breach of rights, the court ordered the Attorney General and the Police Commissioner to regulate their position within twenty days from judgment since they could no longer rely on the EAW as grounds for bail.
Lawyers Stefano Filletti, Mark Refalo and Sarah Grech assisted the applicant.
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