Disbarred lawyer Patrick Spiteri had spent years “on the run” fleeing justice and the court was right to take all the necessary measures to secure his extradition, the constitutional court ruled, overturning a previous breach of rights decision in his favour.
This was the outcome of appeal proceedings stemming from a judgment delivered in October whereby the First Hall, Civil Court, in its constitutional jurisdiction, held that Spiteri’s fundamental rights were breached when he was detained under arrest for several months after being extradited to Malta, although no national arrest warrant had been issued.
The former lawyer is currently facing fraud and misappropriation charges to the tune of some €7.4 million over a case dating back to 2008.
Yet, while criminal proceedings were ongoing, Spiteri fled the island and was eventually forced back from the UK after he was arrested there following an investigation by The Sunday Times of Malta that tracked him down.
He was then brought to Malta on the strength of a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) following a three-year absence.
After being arraigned upon his return, Spiteri was remanded in custody where he spent several months until he was granted bail.
Spiteri's lawyers filed a constitutional case claiming 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 since no national arrest warrant had been issued in his regard, but only the EAW.
The first court upheld that argument stating that a EAW was to be preceded by an arrest warrant and since that was missing, Spiteri’s fundamental rights to liberty and freedom of movement had been breached.
However, the Constitutional Court did not agree with the first court.
The attorney general and the police commissioner, as respondents, argued that the first court had made a wrong appreciation of evidence because a national arrest warrant had, in fact, been issued.
The EAW had merely been in “template” form, drawn up to describe the facts and crimes that were the subject of the arrest warrant issued by Magistrate Josette Demicoli and addressed to the police commissioner.
That document explicitly stated that it was a “warrant issued so that Spiteri would be arrested and extradited to Malta to face prosecution in relation to these crimes”.
Breach of right claims 'afterthoughts'
The breach of rights claims raised by Spiteri were merely “afterthoughts” intended to weaken criminal charges in his regard, argued the respondents, adding that Spiteri had not objected to the arrest when arraigned on May 31, 2017.
Nor had he requested bail at that stage.
And since he was charged with “grievous and serious” crimes, there was an “overriding public interest” to safeguard the rights of victims and society in general.
The constitutional court agreed with this argument, pointing out that Spiteri had in fact been granted bail after several failed attempts.
The court’s stance in granting bail after a “few months” did not appear “unreasonable” given that he had spent years “effectively on the run,” stultifying the criminal process.
The constitutional court also confirmed that a national arrest warrant had, in fact, been issued.
For years, Spiteri had sent no information to the Maltese courts about his whereabouts, his medical condition and his expected date of return, observed the court.
Nor did his lawyer turn up for court hearings in Spiteri’s absence.
Such a lack of cooperation triggered the necessity of an EAW, said the court, presided over by Chief Justice Mark Chetcuti and including Justices Giannino Caruana Demajo and Anthony Ellul.
Spiteri’s behaviour “did little to breed faith in his trustworthiness,” remarked the judges, stating that the Magistrates’ Court was right in seeking measures to ensure that the accused appeared in court for the continuation of criminal proceedings.
The court upheld the respondents’ appeal and declared that Spiteri had suffered no breach of rights.
Lawyers Stefano Filletti, Mark Refalo and Sarah Grech assisted the applicant.
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