Constitutional Court throws out Patrick Spiteri's request that his human rights case be re-heard

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

The Constitutional Court has rejected Patrick Spiteri’s request for the re-hearing of a case in which a court had ruled that his fundamental rights had not been breached by his arrest and subsequent bail conditions.

Last July three judges presiding over the Constitutional Court recused themselves from presiding over the re-hearing of the case filed by the disbarred former lawyer, in view of the fact that 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. He was eventually granted bail on several conditions, which prohibit him from leaving 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 of that year. An appeal by the 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 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, three judges presiding the Constitutional Court had recused themselves, at the request of Spiteri’s lawyers, in view of the fact that the same judges had also handed down the March judgement he was challenging.

The lawyers, Stefano Filletti, Mark Refalo and Sarah Grech, had argued that the court 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.

But In a judgement delivered earlier today, the Constitutional Court, presided over by judges Joseph R. Micallef, Tonio Mallia and Christian Falzon Scerri turned down Spiteri’s retrial request. 

Besides being an extraordinary remedy which could only be applied in certain situations which are clearly defined at law, a retrial of a case decided by the Constitutional Court was not legally possible, said the judges.

This is because such a remedy was not contemplated in the law and this position had been reiterated time and again in case law.

Amendments to the Code of Organisation and Civil Procedure in 2005 and 2007 introduced the possibility of the retrial of cases heard by the First Hall of the Civil Court in its Constitutional jurisdiction, but the legislator had not extended this option to include decisions of the Constitutional Court.

In a sitting in October, Spiteri’s lawyers had disagreed with the position established in jurisprudence, arguing that articles 46 and 95 of the Constitution, which lay down the jurisdiction of the First Hall of the Civil Court in its Constitutional jurisdiction and that of the Constitutional Court, respectively, permitted a retrial.

But in their judgement rejecting the request, the judges point out that the articles cited made no mention of retrial and gave no comfort to Spiteri’s arguments. Neither did other references he made to dispositions of the Court Practice and Procedure and Good Order Rules, which the court noted, only stated that the articles of the Code of Organisation and Civil Procedure regulating proceedings also applied to proceedings before the Constitutional Court.

The fact that the legislator had not changed this law, despite it being the subject of numerous court cases, confirmed that it was not the legislator’s intention to do so, said the judges. They remarked that this position was well-founded, as instead of requesting a retrial, a plaintiff had the option of petitioning the European Court of Human Rights in view of Malta’s ratification of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

“Although the Maltese legal system does not use the principle of precedent, however argumentum simili valet in lege (an argument drawn from a similar case, or analogy, avails in law) remains a sacrosanct principle.”

In light of this, the court upheld the nullity argument raised by the Attorney General and the Commissioner of Police, declaring that it could not proceed further with Spiteri’s request for a retrial because this action was not permitted by law. The judges ordered Spiteri to bear all costs related to this case “since it was he who pointlessly filed this application.”