The Malta Independent 26 November 2022, Saturday
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Lack of resources causing pressure and delays, Chief Justice says

Monday, 3 October 2022, 14:37 Last update: about 3 months ago

The lack of resources is causing a lot of pressure, resulting in many delays, Chief Justice Mark Chetcuti said during his speech for the opening of the forensic year on Monday morning.

During his speech, he spoke about the challenges in the justice system. His speech was split into two, he first spoke about measures to increase efficiency, and then he spoke about measures which are more complicated and require financial support.

Chetcuti highlighted the main issue as being the problem with civil appeals, where appeals must be heard in court. He said that there is a backlog of around 800 appeals. Consequently, he is proposing that another two judges be nominated to the Court of Appeal, to help with this issue.


Moreover, he is proposing to Minister for Justice Jonathan Attard that at least two magistrates be nominated to deal with the significant amount of court cases. One of these magistrates would work on domestic violence cases, the number of which has increased, he said. Whilst the other magistrate would work on money laundering cases.

He said that the Rent Regulation Board was facing challenges, where by the end of the year there will be over 1,000 cases requesting an increase in rent - which are linked to recent legal amendments. He suggested that these cases should be heard by a specialised ad hoc Tribunal to relieve magistrates from some of the pressure.

Furthermore, he said that in reality, two more magistrates are needed to work on criminal cases.

Chetcuti also spoke about the notification system which involves a lot of manual labour and has been around for a while. He said that sometimes, months and even years pass until someone is notified physically. Therefore, he suggested that email addresses should be used to serve judicial acts.

However, he said that he is aware that current infrastructure cannot accommodate more judges. This brought him to the second part of his proposals, where he focused on the need to increase the space available for the courts.

During the second part of his speech, he spoke about infrastructure, which he said does not offer enough space for the number of cases being handled. He said that there is hardly any space for people to sit down in the corridors. However, he said that increasing courtrooms will not solve the problem because this will just put more pressure on the already swamped administration.

Instead, the government should focus on utilising new buildings in the vicinity of the court to cater for smaller cases.

He also mentioned that the criminal courts can benefit from certain cases being handled outside of the main building. At the moment, there is not enough space for judges to all work on the same day, he said.

When talking about family court, he said that there would sometimes be people waiting outside on Strait Street. He proposed that family courts should be available in other locations, not only to increase space but also to accommodate other essential services related to this court.

When talking about the University of Malta, he said that a more hands-on approach needs to be implemented in the law course, so that students will understand what procedures take place in court.

He ended on a personal note, where he suggested that the judiciary will be composed of judges that put everyone on the same level.

The Vice President of the Chamber of Advocates, Stephen Tonna Lowell, also spoke, and highlighted the problems legal professionals face in their practice.

Tonna Lowell said the Chamber felt that there was serious regulation of the advocates' profession was lacking.

He further revealed that after meeting with Minister for Justice Jonathan Attard, an agreement was found that a working group would be appointed, with the task of legally regulating the profession, just as other professions are regulated.

Tonna Lowell also brought up the issues being faced in the Constitutional court, regarding the fines issued by regulators such as the FIAU and the MFSA. The Chamber is calling for the possibility to contest in court or tribunals, any fines handed out by regulators. This, he said, will lead to the tribunal establishing criteria as to when fines can be distributed. Also, the final decision would rest in the hands of an impartial tribunal or court.

PN statement

The PN said that the justice system is an inefficient and ineffective one, as it places an unfair burden on families and businesses, whilst weakening the competitiveness of Malta.

"When the Government does not invest in the justice system, it is choosing not to respect the rule of law and is hindering citizens from enjoying their rights. Today we have thousands of people and businesses who, instead of justice, are being treated unfairly because of the exaggerated delay in the hearing and deciding of court cases in which they are involved," the statement read.

The opposition said that currently in the civil field, by the end of July 2022 there were almost 800 civil appeals that have not yet been appointed, meaning that such appeals do not yet have a date as to when the first hearing will be held before the Court.

"This is a situation that needs to be addressed because," it said. "For this to happen, the government needs to invest more in the human resources assigned to the judges."

It continued by revealing that in the criminal field, until the end of June 2022 there were almost 1,500 magisterial inquiries that were still pending, with some of the magistrates having more than 160 inquiries together with the rest of the cases and other procedures that are already assigned to them.

The opposition continued that the Government has given up on solving the problem of delays in the Courts, which it said is the biggest problem in the field of justice in Malta and that the situation needs to be addressed by increasing the number of employees with the Court Services Agency, including the number of employees assigned directly to Judges and Magistrates.  Additionally the PN want for the Court Services Agency to improve wages of those who are already employed and to attract more people who are academically prepared for procedural practices.

"For years the government has been ignoring the proposal of the Nationalist Party to set up the Inquiring judiciary office composed of a number of Magistrates who specialize in inquiries only. This proposal was also mentioned by the Chief Justice during his speech on the occasion of the opening of the forensic year in October 2021. Despite this, the government has not yet taken any action."

The opposition pointed out that the situation is so desperate that lawyers and other courts professionals who have been practicing in the court for years are now choosing to abandon the exercise of their profession and look for alternative employment .

In this regard the PN is proposing for parliament to pass a law that regulates the legal profession after full consultation with the Chamber of Advocates and the Chamber of Legal Procurators.

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