Alleged conman Patrick Spiteri gets measly €2,000 in fair trial complaint

Disbarred lawyer Patrick Spiteri will receive just €2,000 in compensation from the State, under a judgement by the European Court of Human Rights on a complaint about the inordinate length of criminal proceedings against him

Patrick spiteri
Patrick spiteri

Disbarred lawyer Patrick Spiteri will receive just €2,000 out of a total €198,000 he had demanded in compensation from the State, under a judgement by the European Court of Human Rights on a complaint about the inordinate length of criminal proceedings against him.

The facts of the case date back to 2001 when Spiteri had first been questioned by the police as part of a magisterial inquiry into suspected money laundering. In 2008 he was questioned by the police again and later charged with forgery and misappropriation of funds which occurred in 2007 and earlier. On 10 December 2008 Spiteri was committed to trial.

Following a number of hearings which Spiteri failed to attend and requests for adjournment by the prosecution, at the end of 2010 evidence started to be collected from five different jurisdictions through letters rogatory.

In July 2012 the prosecution declared it had no further evidence to submit. Spiteri had stopped attending the criminal hearings and in June 2014 it emerged that he had left for the United Kingdom, in order to be treated for Bechet’s syndrome – a rare multisystem inflammatory disorder – and claimed that he was not medically fit to return to Malta.

Following extradition proceedings, Spiteri returned to Malta in May 2017 and lodged a number of requests mainly in relation to the collection of evidence. Some 16 hearings took place until May 2019 when the proceedings had to be suspended, pending the outcome of constitutional proceedings filed by Spiteri, in which he raised the complaint about the length of the ongoing criminal proceedings against him.

In March 2020, the First Hall of the Civil Court, in its constitutional competence, had rejected all Spiteri’s claims on the merits. With regards to the length of proceedings, the court had considered that the starting point for the calculation had to be 2008 as Spiteri had not proved that he had been aware that he was being investigated prior to being arrested in 2008.

A subsequent appeal was also dismissed by the Constitutional Court in July 2020, which agreed with 2008 being the starting point of criminal proceedings, as his 2001 interrogation had nothing to do with the charges he faced in 2008.

But the complaint was ruled to be unfounded by that court, which held that it had been evident that Spiteri had contributed a great deal to the delays.

The ECHR, composed of Mr. Justice Krzysztof Wojtyczek, presiding together with judges Erik Wennerström and Maltese judge Lorraine Schembri Orland, reiterated that in criminal matters, the length of proceedings are measured from the moment a person is charged and not from the beginning of the investigation.

While both Spiteri and the Maltese State had contributed to the extension of the criminal proceedings the ECHR said it had “no doubt” that Spiteri had put in place a number of delaying tactics which exceeded mere procedural and defence rights, pointing out that even before the ECHR itself, he had “repeatedly referred to complaints declared inadmissible or in any event falling outside the scope of the complaint communicated to the Government.”

“Ultimately, proceedings were indeed significantly compounded and delayed as a result of the applicant’s prolonged absence and the necessity to have him repatriated via extradition proceedings, and a series of connected problems which came to be only as a result of the applicant’s choice to leave Malta during his criminal proceedings,” ruled the court.

Nevertheless, it held that his right to trial had been breached, saying that it “could not ignore a delay of around three years imputable to the Maltese authorities, a delay which cannot be explained by the complexity of the case, as evidenced by the fact that the prosecution had already closed its evidence in 2012.”

The court accepted that in spite of the increased complexity in prosecuting financial crimes and the requirement of cooperation and assistance from foreign jurisdictions, this had not been the cause of the delay in Spiteri’s case.

On his claim for costs, the ECHR, having observed that fact that the costs related to the criminal proceedings had no connection with the rights violation found, and that most of the applicant’s claims before the constitutional jurisdictions as well as before it had been rejected, the court said it was reasonable to award Spiteri €2,000 to cover costs.

Lawyers Ian Refalo, Mark Refalo and Sarah Grech represented Spiteri in the ECHR proceedings.