Shipping boss accuses courts of lethargy in action against dismissal of illegal arrest claim

Shipping company boss Paul Attard is wanted in taly to face drug suggling charges

Paul Attard (right) flanked by his lawyer, in an interview for French TV programme Enquete Esclusive
Paul Attard (right) flanked by his lawyer, in an interview for French TV programme Enquete Esclusive

A man opposing his surrender to the judicial authorities in Italy, where he is wanted to face drug smuggling charges, has filed further court action, accusing the courts of "lethargy".

The application to the Criminal Court follows a court decision yesterday that dismissed Paul Attard's attempt to have his arrest declared illegal.

In November 2021, the Court of Magistrates had upheld a request by the Italian judicial authorities for the return of shipping company CEO Paul Attard, so that he could face drug trafficking charges in connection with the discovery of 10 tonnes of cannabis on one of Attard’s ships.  The court had ordered that Attard be remanded in custody pending his return.

Attard had previously filed an appeal to that decision, which appeal was denied in December that year. Confirming the judgement of the Court of Magistrates, the court ordered Attard to be returned to Italy.

Subsequently, the businessman had filed two constitutional cases challenging the order from different legal angles. His lawyers argue that by doing so he had triggered an article in the Extradition Act which grants a right to seek constitutional redress in such situations. This, in turn, his lawyers say, activated a regulation contained in a piece of subsidiary legislation, which they claim prohibits his return until the constitutional cases are definitively concluded.

As a result, his lawyers say, Attard has been in preventive custody since November and was encountering difficulty in finding a judicial forum to evaluate the legitimacy of his continued arrest.

Attard’s lawyers subsequently filed a second constitutional case against the State Advocate amongst others, in which he requested bail. In a decree handed down yesterday in that case, the court ordered the Attorney General to file her reply within five days.

A separate application for habeas corpus , requesting the court to declare that Attard’s arrest was illegal was also filed, and dismissed in a sitting yesterday.

The latest appeal application states that in its decision yesterday, the court had said that there were ordinary remedies that had not been used by Attard, because the Court of Magistrates retained residual powers to decide the validity or otherwise of the continued arrest.

In yesterday’s decision, the magistrate had pointed out that the postponement of the surrender of the requested person assumed that proceedings against him for other offences in Malta are “conducted with great expediency, precisely because the requested person could effectively be sent back to the requesting country.”

If this does not happen, the court dealing with the extradition request would retain a residual power, subject to revision by the Criminal Court, to decide on bail independently of whether bail is granted or not, the court had ruled.

But this could not be done at the same time as an order to commit the requested person to custody, argued the lawyers.

They argued that when the wanted person’s surrender was postponed by the court due to other pending criminal proceedings, there must be an ordinary remedy available in case those criminal proceedings are not progressing as they should.

The other cases filed by Attard were progressing with “a certain lethargy and dragging of feet,” alleged the lawyers, claiming that not even their urgent requests for interim measures were being dealt with expeditiously. “Rather, the opposite - they are practically being swept under the carpet.”

During the various proceedings against him, Attard had been released on bail between September and November 2021 and had always complied with his bail conditions, his lawyers argued, saying that his trustworthiness had been proven and assuring the court that he had “no intention of absconding from Malta because he is fighting to stay in the country.”

Lawyers Arthur Azzopardi, Jose’ Herrera and Franco Debono signed the application.