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Constitutional Court orders immediate release of man due to be extradited to Lithuania

Malta's highest court has ordered the immediate release of a man who was due to be extradited to Lithuania, after it found that being held in a Lithuanian prison would infringe his fundamental human rights

matthew_agius
Matthew Agius
18 July 2017, 2:29pm
Overcrowding, unhygienic conditions, frequent outbursts of violence and lack of prison staff all meant that Spiteri would be at a real risk of suffering a violation of his fundamental rights if extradited
Overcrowding, unhygienic conditions, frequent outbursts of violence and lack of prison staff all meant that Spiteri would be at a real risk of suffering a violation of his fundamental rights if extradited
Malta's highest court has ordered the immediate release of a man who was due to be extradited to Lithuania, just over one month after it rejected three constitutional challenges that he had filed against his continued detention.

The prospect of serving time in Lithuania's hellish prison system had become all but certain for Angelo Frank Paul Spiteri in June, when the constitutional court had dismissed arguments raised by his legal team.

Spiteri is the director of a Lithuanian-registered travel company who had been the subject of a European Arrest Warrant in Lithuania, where he is wanted to face fraud charges in Lithuania along with two others. He is accused of setting up “Atostogu sandèlis” (which loosely translates to “Holiday Warehouse”) in Vilnius – a false company which would convince its victims to sign accommodation agreements with certain hotels and after signing and receiving payment for this, would deliberately not provide the service which he had received payment for.


On 18 May this year, judge Jacqueline Padovani Grima, presiding the First Hall of the Civil Court in its constitutional jurisdiction had declared that returning him to Lithuania would breach his fundamental human rights. Today's decision by the Constitutional Court is its rejection of the appeal filed by the Attorney General against judge Padovani Grima's decision.

It brings to an end a complex two-year court saga for the businessman, which began in December 2015, when extradition proceedings began before magistrate Aaron Bugeja on the strength of a European Arrest Warrant. 

On 17 February 2016, the Court of Criminal Appeal had upheld the decision by the Court of Magistrates ordering his extradition. Spiteri had then filed Constitutional proceedings, which had led to the suspension of the extradition order until the case was decided.


In May, judge Jacqueline Padovani Grima, presiding the First Hall of the Civil Court in its constitutional jurisdiction had ruled that the extradition should not go ahead due to the strong risk that he would be subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment.

Some days later, a still-incarcerated Spiteri had filed an application to the Court of Magistrates asking it to provisionally order the enforcement of a judgement by the First Hall of the Civil Court handed down on 18 May and release him. That court had refused, however, observing that nowhere in the sentence was it indicated that his arrest was illegal or that he should be released.

After filing a second Constitutional Case, over his denial of bail, Spiteri was released from arrest in June 2016 as an interim measure by the First Hall of the Civil Court in its constitutional jurisdiction. This was revoked in January 2017 by the Constitutional Court.

In June 2017, Chief Justice Silvio Camilleri, together with Justices Giannino Caruana Demajo and Noel Cuschieri decided that the effects of the European Arrest Warrant remained in force and this meant that his arrest was legal and the courts could not order his release on bail as an interim measure.

This afternoon, in a 34-page judgement, the Constitutional Court has finally ruled that Spiteri will not be extradited. The court examined in detail a number of cases and EU reports on the Lithuanian prison system, saying these corroborated the allegation of inhumane detention conditions.

Overcrowding, unhygienic conditions, frequent outbursts of violence and lack of prison staff all meant that Spiteri would be at a real risk of suffering a violation of his fundamental rights if extradited.

Although the Lithuanian legal system provided a remedy to inmates, “this does not necessarily exonerate the Maltese state from responsibility if a violation takes place,” the court ruled today. The fact that the Lithuanian government had declared that it would not be able to indicate in advance which facility Spiteri would be held in did not help the court's peace of mind. “This continues to increase the grade of risk that his fundamental right would be violated,” it said.

For the purposes of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the court said, there was no need to prove the intention on the part of the state to inflict degrading treatment - it was enough for prisons conditions to fall below the minimum acceptable standard for a violation of that right to occur.

A declaration of violation of his rights would not be sufficient remedy in this case, the court said, ordering the cancellation of the extradition order and Spiteri's immediate release.

Evelyn Borg Costanzi, Julian Farrugia, Jason Azzopardi and Kris Busietta appeared for Spiteri.

matthew_agius
Court reporter Matthew Agius is a Legal Procurator and Commissioner for Oaths. Prior to re...