A Maltese man who is wanted in Italy to answer to drug trafficking charges has filed a constitutional case claiming that a procedural error committed by an appeals court breached his human right to a fair hearing.
Paul Attard claimed that a judge hearing his appeal from a magistrate’s decision to extradite him to Italy erroneously referred to defective minutes of what was said during a court sitting and which led the judge to reject his requests.
Attard, a 43-year-old shipper, was arrested in Malta on the strength of a European arrest warrant issued by the Giudice per gli Indagini Preliminari (preliminary investigations judge).
He is wanted in Italy to face trial over the trafficking of 10 tonnes of hashish found on a fishing boat.
The vessel had been intercepted by the Italian authorities in international waters in 2018 after setting off from Malta to Algeria, on a trip allegedly organised by Maltese drug traffickers.
The hashish was allegedly found in the vessel’s cold room.
Attard was first arraigned in 2019 but Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech turned down Italy’s extradition request, upholding his argument that the documentation was defective.
A new European arrest warrant was issued in September 2021 and this was again turned down by Magistrate Doreen Clarke.
The Attorney General appealed and Mr Justice Aron Bugeja partially upheld the appeal, sending the acts back to the Magistrates’ Court, now presided by newly-appointed Magistrate Noel Bartolo who, in one of his first judgments, ordered the suspect’s return to Italy.
Attard appealed and his case was heard by Mr Justice Giovanni Grixti.
The main bone of contention is the issue of jurisdiction with the court deeming that Italy has extra-territorial jurisdiction over the alleged acts and Attard arguing that, if anything, it should have been the Maltese authorities which had territorial jurisdiction and, thus, should not be sent to Italy.
In a fresh case filed before the First Hall of the Civil Court in its constitutional jurisdiction, Attard claimed that the judge misquoted a statement by the prosecution and then went on to reject his claims without any motivation.
The demands included that Attard faces court proceedings in Malta rather than in Italy and that, if convicted in Italy, he would serve his sentence in Malta.
Through his lawyers, Arthur Azzopardi and Franco Debono, Attard argued that one cannot have reassurance whether the Court of Criminal Appeal relied on this erroneous statement, which differed from the actual transcript taken during the sitting.
The lawyers quoted from European Court of Human Rights case law on the identification of procedural defects, which, unless remedied, is incompatible with the requirements of a fair trial.
The court must embark on an assessment of evidence to determine whether any procedural shortcoming has or has not irretrievably prejudiced the overall fairness of the proceedings.
Attard called on the court to declare an infringement of his human right to a fair trial and provide remedies as deemed appropriate including the nullification of the appeal judgment.
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