Disbarred lawyer Patrick Spiteri wins judges’ recusal in Constitutional retrial

First for Malta as three judges in Constitutional Court recuse themselves from presiding retrial of constitutional case

Patrick Spiteri
Patrick Spiteri

In what is understood to be a first for Malta, three judges making up the Constitutional Court have recused themselves from presiding over the retrial of a constitutional case filed by disbarred former lawyer Patrick Spiteri, as two of them had delivered the judgement around which his constitutional claim revolved.

Spiteri, who is facing fraud and misappropriation charges in a €7.4 million case dating back 20 years, had been arrested in Surrey, England in 2017 and extradited to Malta.

Spiteri was eventually granted bail on several conditions, amongst them that he not leave the Maltese islands.

In June 2019, he asked the courts to relax his bail conditions to allow him to travel abroad and attend work-related meetings every so often. Initially rejected, a second request was upheld in September that year. An appeal by Attorney General was then upheld by the Criminal Court, which ruled that Spiteri’s bail conditions were not to be changed.

Spiteri’s subsequent request that the same court reconsider this decree, was also turned down in November 2019, and earlier in March 2022 the Constitutional Court rejected his claim that the courts had breached his fundamental rights.

Then in May 2022 Spiteri filed for a retrial of his constitutional case, requesting a ruling on certain points of European law. The AG and the Commissioner of Police argued that Spiteri had no legal right to request a retrial in constitutional proceedings.

On 22 June, Spiteri then requested that the three judges presiding the Constiutional Court to recuse themselves, in view of the fact that the same judges had handed down the March judgement he was challenging.

Spiteri’s lawyers, Stefano Filletti, Mark Refalo and Sarah Grech, argued that the court had failed to apply the principle of supremacy of European law, which requires that a European Arrest Warrant be separate and distinct from an arrest warrant issued under ordinary Maltese law.

A civil court in April had also upheld Spiteri’s claim of a breach of fair hearing rights, in marital annulment proceedings, due to the fact that two of the judges presiding the retrial of that case had also previously delivered judgement on the case being retried.

In a decision handed down on 18 July, by Chief Justice Mark Chetcuti, Mr Justice Giannino Caruana Demajo and Mr Justice Anthony Ellul, the judges upheld Spiteri’s request, observing that both the Code of Organisation and Civil Procedure and jurisprudence stated that retrial proceedings should not be heard by the same judges that delivered the original judgement.

They upheld the recusal request, ruling that it would be fitting that the preliminary plea in those same proceedings are presided by judges not involved in the hearing of the appeal.