Court rules Patrick Spiteri arrest illegal, fundamental rights breached

Court rules that former lawyer Patrick Spiteri's arrest was illegal • He faces fraud and misappropriation charges of €7.4 million in a case dating back 20 years

Patrick spiteri
Patrick spiteri

A constitutional court ruled that disbarred lawyer Patrick Spiteri’s rights were breached when he was held under arrest in Malta on the strength of a European Arrest Warrant without a local arrest warrant, deeming his detention illegal.

Spiteri is facing fraud and misappropriation charges of €7.4 million in a case dating back 20 years. He had requested the courts to ease his bail conditions so as to allow him to be able to work abroad.

Spiteri’s lawyer, Stefano Filletti, had filed a constitutional case against the Attorney General and the Commissioner of Police before the First Hall of the Civil Court, claiming that the fact that he was detained under a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) which was not accompanied by a local arrest warrant, constituted a breach of his rights.

He told Madam Justice Anna Felice that Spiteri is the subject of criminal proceedings which have been pending before the Court of Magistrates since 2008. Proceedings had initially been by summons and not by arrest, said the lawyer. Spiteri had claimed to have needed to travel to the UK for medical treatment for a rare medical condition and would regularly send the prosecution medical certificates outlining his treatment, Filletti said.

The lawyer also pointed out that the prosecution had requested an EAW at a stage when the presiding magistrate had just been replaced and without informing the magistrate that the prosecution was in regular contact with Spiteri at the time.

For the breach of his fundamental rights, the applicant requested the cancellation of every court decision holding him under arrest in Malta and all bail conditions.

In his reply the AG said that the claim of a violation of Spiteri’s right to a fair trial was premature as the criminal proceedings were still in compilation stage.

The AG also said that Spiteri’s request for the cancellation of two decrees given by the Criminal Court was an “abuse of procedure” as he was trying to use Constitutional proceedings to overturn criminal court decrees.

The court, after consulting local and European case law, ruled that the EAW needed a national arrest warrant to be issued in order for the accused to be held under arrest after his arrival in Malta.

The fact that Spiteri was detained under arrest without a national arrest warrant issued in Malta, meant that his detention was illegal and therefore his fundamental right to liberty was breached, ruled the court.

“The court has thought about this for a long time and decides that although the detention of the applicant between May and December 2017 was not justified – rather was illegal – and despite also the fact that today his right to freedom of movement is being hampered due to  conditions imposed by the Criminal Court which limit his freedom of movement, the cancellation of every condition imposed by the Criminal Court which limits his freedom of movement was not in the best interests of justice according to the particular circumstances of this case.”

“It should not be this court which decides whether the applicant can travel from these islands whilst criminal proceedings against him are still underway, after he disappeared for nearly 3 years, and if it were to uphold his request that is precisely what it would be doing.

“However, this takes nothing away from the fact that the defendants can no longer rely on the EAW as a basis for the applicant’s bail and orders them to regularise this situation… within 20 days of this judgment.”

The court declared that Spiteri’s fundamental right to liberty and freedom of movement were being breached by the fact that the restrictions on his movements were not made on the strength of a national warrant of arrest.

His other requests were denied by the court.

Lawyers Stefano Filletti, Mark Refalo and Sarah Grech are appearing for Spiteri.