The Malta Independent 22 October 2020, Thursday

TMID Editorial: The law course - A suggestion for improvement which must be looked into

Saturday, 3 October 2020, 08:24 Last update: about 18 days ago

Thursday saw an important annual appointment for the legal field, with the opening of the Forensic Year.  While the Covid-19 pandemic made the ceremonials a bit different this year, limiting Chief Justice Mark Chetcuti to giving his address through a statement as opposed to through a formal speech; his words still resonated in the field.

One particularly interesting part of the new Chief Justice’s speech was his appeal to the Government, as well as the University of Malta, to consider revisions to the current law course “in order for a more specialised course to be drawn up, which addresses all those aspiring lawyers who would like to work in the Courts.”

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In his address, Chetcuti said that while there are a large number of students graduating every year, only a small number of these new lawyers eventually make it to within the Law Courts.

“There already exists a problem, where only a small number of lawyers work within the Courts, and if this problem is not sufficiently addressed, in the near future we will have a situation where there won’t be a choice of lawyers who would be willing to work in the Law Courts, and an even smaller choice of practicing lawyers from which judges or prosecutors can be chosen”, Chetcuti said.

Chetcuti’s words are pertinent – indeed, as he himself says, the less lawyers working within court, then the smaller the pool of people who could become Judges or Magistrates is – something which, if it comes to fruition, could be a concern when it comes to the country’s rule of law.

The concern on such a smaller pool of people to choose from also comes at a time when the number of Magistrates and Judges has increased, with the government hoping that the courts can finally catch up with the years-long backlog of pending cases that it is facing.

Therefore, conducting the necessary improvements within the Law Faculty at the University of Malta is essential in order to prepare new lawyers for the courtroom.

However, this is not something that can come about by simply changing the syllabus for the course, which runs for four years, but which then requires a further year at a Masters level in order to obtain a warrant to practice.

It is no secret that the law faculty is one of the more heavily criticised at the University of Malta.  Student organisations have over the years criticised the faculty for certain issues; in the past year alone there has been criticism over delays in the publication of exam or dissertation results, the EU Law department, and an exam being postponed because the questions were not part of the syllabus.

With this in mind, any idea for change within the law course offered at the University of Malta needs to also look at things holistically as well, keeping in mind the internal structures of the faculty which ultimately need to be the motor behind any new course or syllabus.

The Chief Justice’s words mean that this is no longer strictly a University-related matter; clearly, the bi-product of any change which may come about will ultimately have an effect on the legal profession as a whole, and by extension, the country’s rule of law as well.

The words of a man as important as the Chief Justice should not fall on deaf ears.  Definitely, if there is space for change – then it should be investigated with an eye towards seeking solutions which will ultimately leave a positive imprint on the sector and the country as a whole.

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