Three new services aiming to speed up civil court procedures were launched by Parliamentary Secretary for Justice Owen Bonnici today to mark the European Day of Civil Justice.
At a press conference held outside the Law Courts, Dr Bonnici emphasised that at this day and age, the technology available should be exploited to offer a better service, deeming present arrangements not up to scratch.
These present arrangements include having to check the notice boards outside the relevant court hall to find out if a particular sitting has been deferred. This has been addressed: the first service announced by the parliamentary secretary is the launch of an SMS notification service through which each party’s lawyer is notified immediately when a judge defers a sitting.
Dr Bonnici explained that a similar service had been launched on a trial basis some years ago, but had not been retained. Eventually, he added, the system could be extended to allow all those involved in the case to be notified directly.
The parliamentary secretary said that the other two services which were being launched had already been voluntarily implemented by a number of judges, and that their good practice was being built upon.
Both services involve the use of emails: the first announced by Dr Bonnici will see any ruling issued by the civil courts emailed to all the lawyers involved in the case. But on the advice of the Chamber of Advocates, he added, rulings issued by the Family Court will only be emailed to the party which requested the ruling, due to the sensitivity of the cases the court has to deal with.
In the lack of such emails, lawyers have to constantly check on such rulings, and Dr Bonnici cited examples where fathers estranged from their children’s mothers had to wait for weeks to find out whether they had been granted access to their children.
Emails will also be used to send the transcripts of testimony to the lawyers concerned. At present, where this does not take place, transcripts are printed out and either deposited at the Chamber of Advocates’ offices – if the lawyers concerned are members – or simply left in the court hall.
Asked to comment on any planned IT reforms in the Criminal Court, Dr Bonnici noted that SMS notifications were not appropriate in this case, since the fact that people’s freedom was at stake demanded a more formal notification system.
But he also revealed that a pilot project will be launched in one Criminal Court hall, through which an increased use of technology will be assessed.