The Malta Independent 28 January 2023, Saturday
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TMID Editorial: Examining our court system

Tuesday, 6 December 2022, 11:23 Last update: about 3 months ago

Chief Justice Emeritus Vincent De Gaetano told The Malta Independent on Sunday that an overhaul of the criminal court procedures should be considered in the long term.

He explains that simply increasing the number of judges is not sufficient to tackle delays, which is why the aim should be to consider "a total overhaul of the system," and that this would also require a radical change in the mentality of both judges and magistrates, of the legal profession and of the administration.  The long-term aim should be to consider an overhaul directed towards ensuring that a criminal case begins and ends without interruption, "with the hearing being conducted throughout the day and possibly the following day and the one after, so on and so forth. Judgement would then be handed down at the end of the hearing," he said. This, he said, will be difficult to implement in the short term. "But unless we have that aim for the long term, we're never going to really tackle the problem of delays."

Judge De Gaetano's proposal is an interesting one that is definitely worth consideration. If we could somehow reduce the amount of time spent on each case, it would obviously help in terms of reducing court delays and for swifter justice. The trick would be reaching such a stage, where working in such a manner would not mean that cases would take too long to start being heard altogether.

Of course this would likely also mean that prosecutors and also defence lawyers would need to change the way they operate, dedicating efforts to one case at a time. Judge De Gaetano said that such a change would also raise a number of questions, such as whether such a move would be financially viable, and whether a more sophisticated legal aid system would be needed as a result.

But something needs to be done to tackle the length of time court cases take, and the former Chief Justice's point deserves serious consideration.

The country needs to declare some goals and explore ideas to improve the speed of Malta's justice system. Simply appointing more judges and magistrates is not the whole solution to the problem. While it is likely that more members of the judiciary are needed in court, we must not forget the support staff that they would also require, and the space needed for them to conduct their work. Employing the best possible support staff could also increase efficiency.

But the former Chief Justice's point, that a long-term overhaul of criminal court procedures should be considered, is a goal worth exploring.

Another idea, which was put by this newsroom to the former Chief Justice, could potentially be to do away with the compilation of evidence stage. Asked about this, the former Chief Justice said that such an idea would require some very radical changes in police working methods and the way the police liaise with the Attorney General. "That would be tantamount to removing the 'discovery' stage of the criminal proceedings in serious cases. But it can be done. In England, for instance, the committal proceedings have been abolished."

Regardless if this doable in Malta or not, the point is that we should start discussing ways to improve the speed of proceedings and exploring possible options. Of course such a debate absolutely must involve the judiciary as well as members of the legal profession. Certain success has been achieved in appeal cases through changes that were introduced, so we should now focus on other courts.



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