Judge dismisses human rights case filed by man wanted in Italy over drug and organised crime charges

The accused has been fighting extradition to Italy since 2022, and was close to avoiding extradition before a judge had ordered his case to be sent back to the Courts of Magistrates to be retried

A judge has dismissed a human rights case that had been intended to prevent the extradition of a man wanted by Italy to face drug trafficking and organised crime charges. 

58-year-old John Spiteri of Qrendi is wanted by the Italian authorities in order to face charges of participation in a criminal organisation and marijuana trafficking. 

The extradition case against Spiteri almost foundered in 2022, when the Court of Magistrates had initially dismissed a request for his extradition to Italy, on the grounds that important documentation had not been exhibited by the prosecution. But after the Attorney General filed an appeal, in August 2022, a judge had ordered Spiteri’s extradition case to be sent back to the Courts of Magistrates to be retried. 

Spiteri’s lawyers had requested that the Court of Magistrates demand a guarantee from the Italian authorities that if Spiteri were to be sent there for trial, he would not be subjected to torture, or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The request was denied, leading Spiteri’s lawyers to file an appeal, which was upheld by the Court of Criminal Appeal in September 2022. 

But Spiteri was not satisfied with the guarantees contained in the document that was subsequently sent by the Italian authorities, and so he had instructed his lawyers to file the Constitutional proceedings that were decided on Thursday. 

In that judgement, Mr Justice Toni Abela, presiding the First Hall in its Constitutional jurisdiction, systematically dismantled Spiteri’s claims. Judgments by the European Court of Human Rights had established that the right to a fair trial did not apply to extradition cases, which in general, were not classified as criminal proceedings within the member States of the Council of Europe. 

Extraditions do not concern the determination of a criminal charge against the applicant for the purposes of the right to a fair trial. “The fact that they are imposed in the context of criminal proceedings cannot alter their essentially preventive nature. It follows that proceedings for rescission of such measures cannot be regarded as being in the criminal sphere either,” said the judge, quoting the Strasbourg court. 

The judge quoted the same court as having also ruled, in another case, that it “reiterates at the outset that the right not to be extradited is not as such one of the rights and freedoms recognised in the Convention and its additional Protocols.” 

“After all, Italy, a country in the European community, is a signatory both to the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Charter of Fundamental Human Rights. There is nothing to stop the applicant from raising any breach of his fundamental rights before the Italian court once he is before it,” the ruling reads. 

The court also rubbished Spiteri’s claim that inmates incarcerated in Italian prisons were held in degrading and inhuman conditions, pointing out that in his submissions, the plaintiff himself had made reference to a July 2023 judgement by the Court of Catania which had rejected the Maltese authorities request for a person’s extradition, on the grounds that conditions in Maltese prisons were inadequate. 

“Therefore, this means that Italian prisons are better than Malta’s.” 

Lawyers Franco Debono, Charles Mercieca and Francesca Zarb assisted Spiteri. 

Lawyer Julian Farrugia represented the Office of the State Advocate.