Melchior Spiteri human rights claim dismissed by court

Spiteri alleged that the presiding judge in his trial had influenced two witnesses when he threatened to throw them in jail for lying under oath

In 2003, Spiteri was sentenced to 30 years in prison for the murder of usurer Jason Azzopardi in 2001. The murder followed a longstanding family feud between the Azzopardi family, nicknamed tas-Sufu, and the Spiteris
In 2003, Spiteri was sentenced to 30 years in prison for the murder of usurer Jason Azzopardi in 2001. The murder followed a longstanding family feud between the Azzopardi family, nicknamed tas-Sufu, and the Spiteris

A judge has comprehensively thrown out a constitutional case filed by Melchior Spiteri, in which he attempted to claim that his trial for murder had breached his human rights.

In 2003, Spiteri was sentenced to 30 years in prison for the murder of usurer Jason Azzopardi in 2001.

The murder followed a longstanding family feud between the Azzopardi family, nicknamed tas-Sufu, and the Spiteris. The two families lived in the same neighbourhood of Cospicua, known as ‘Fuq Verdala’.

Thirteen years later, in 2016, Spiteri had filed the constitutional case, arguing that he had been deprived of the faculty of choosing his lawyer, that he wasn’t given enough time to prepare for his trial and that the prosecution had held on to a computer containing a list of Azzopardi’s victims.

He also alleged that the presiding judge in his trial had influenced two witnesses when he threatened to throw them in jail for lying under oath.

The First Hall of the Civil Court, in its Constitutional Jurisdiction, presided by Madam Justice Anna Felice, dismissed his case in a decision handed down on Wednesday.

The judge began by stating that it was well-established in Maltese jurisprudence that the functions of this court was not to revise judgments of other courts, but to establish whether breaches of human rights had taken place.

Spiteri had been assisted by lawyer Tonio Azzopardi as legal aid after his previous lawyer had renounced his brief before the trial got underway. The Criminal Court had refused Spiteri’s request for more time to engage other lawyers who needed to study the case and appointed Azzopardi as legal aid.

The court said that this was done to avoid drawing out proceedings and the fact that he had been assigned a legal aid lawyer in no way meant that he was not given a fair hearing. Neither had it been shown that the applicant had suffered prejudice because his lawyer had insufficient time to study the case and prepare a defence. Had this been the case,  it would have been mentioned in the proceedings and not several years after the trial, observed the judge.

On the issue of the computer evidence, the court said that “first and foremost it does not emerge that the applicant made reference to the information about the victims on this computer during the course of criminal proceedings”.

Had he wanted information found on this computer, he had the legal means to request it and not expect that this court reopen criminal proceedings because of his shortcomings, said the judge.

But above all, the information on the computer was not going to help the applicant succeed in his defence based on provocation and mental agitation because these defences had both been placed before jurors and the Court of Criminal Appeal.

In the eyes of jurors, there couldn’t have been the slightest doubt that Jason Azzopardi was a violent and dangerous man but the provocation defence was rejected by the jurors as well as by the Court of Criminal Appeal, said the judge.

On the argument regarding the threats to witnesses, judge Felice observed that the trial judge had declared that he was not believing witnesses Georgina Farrugia and Redent Muscat and had arrested them until they were prepared to tell the truth. This was because both these witnesses had tendered completely different testimony during the compilation of evidence before the trial.

“In the opinion of this court the intervention of the Criminal Court was justified and in no way led to a breach of the applicant’s right to a fair hearing. It is the duty of the judge presiding a jury to, inasmuch as possible, uncover the truth, in order for this truth to be placed before the jurors who will then decide on the guilt or innocence of the accused.”

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