‘Impossible to prepare defence from behind bars’, disbarred lawyer complains

Patrick Spiteri insists he cannot work from his prison cell: 'Everyone smokes there. It’s causing me skin lesions, headaches and nausea, diarrhoea, blurred vision... the pall of smoke drifts into the cell from division. But if I close the door there is no ventilation.'

Patrick Spiteri
Patrick Spiteri

Disbarred lawyer Patrick Spiteri has told a court that he is unable to prepare his defence against charges of fraud because of the difficulties he is encountering in physically accessing the nearly 400 boxes of files that were seized from his office.

Magistrate Consuelo Scerri Herrera had previously decreed that he was allowed access to the documents but not to move them from where they were. As Spiteri has not yet been granted bail – a medical consultant is yet to testify about the condition upon which his bail request hinges – it was impossible for him to see them.

“I want to defend myself properly,” Spiteri told magistrate Josette Demicoli this morning. “I have all the documents for my defence spread out in various boxes held in court and Guardamangia, where there are 300 boxes. I cannot prepare my defence from prison.

“In 2013 I had organised my defence systematically in Guardamangia. But HSBC took possession of the office in 2016 and the documents are now spread out and mixed up amongst several of the boxes.”

When HSBC had taken over the Guardamangia office, it had also asked for the seizure of the documents, as they could be privileged. After being seized documents from around 90 boxes were jumbled up, he said.

“By 11 August, I made five visits to court to see the boxes but was then stopped from coming to court, I was working in the lockup,” he said.

Spiteri claims the documents are needed to compile research and case notes to brief his lawyer and allow him to prepare his defence. He also needed to cross-refer between the documents and the court file, he explained.

He had seen 28 boxes so far and compiled 17 pages of handwritten notes. “But they didn't allow me to take the documents with me to prison.”

Assistant Police Commissioner Ian Abdilla pointed out that he was allowed to make photocopies, however. “I have already identified 5,000 -7,000 pages of documents, how can I photocopy all these?” the former lawyer replied.

Some of the documents are very confidential and relate to due diligence of previous clients who were concerned about having their information running around, he added.

“It is an incredible task to make all those photocopies. Not to mention bad for the environment.”

“It’s impossible to prepare my defence in prison.”

He complained that he was unable to concentrate in prison due to the noise and the smoke.

“Everyone smokes there. It’s causing me skin lesions, headaches and nausea, diarrhoea, blurred vision... the pall of smoke drifts into the cell from division. But if I close the door there is no ventilation. The cell is very hot. It goes against every treatment recommendation.”

Spiteri told the court that, if granted bail he would be living with his parents, next door to the Guardamangia office. HSBC had agreed to allow him access to it, as long as he returns the key every day.

All the copying had to be done by hand, he said, because he had no computer. The former lawyer said matters were made harder by the fact that he suffered from Behcet's Syndrome, which causes loss of coordination and the symptoms had worsened.

Assistant Commissioner Abdilla added that magistrate Scerri Herrera had upheld Spiteri's request to move the documents, as long as he provided an alternative storage place for them.

“He said he could not carry out property viewings because of his incarceration, but his partner and family members are here and could do this on his behalf. We aren't looking for a villa here.”

Spiteri’s lawyer, Stefano Filletti, retorted that the accused had only been given a week to find a garage, which wasn't sufficient time.

The case continues on 13 September.

More in Court & Police

Get access to the real stories first with the digital edition