Court experts are negotiating “unofficial rates” for the services they provide, a report by the Auditor General shows.

The National Audit Office’s annual reports shows that, although “substantial” amounts of money are being paid to court experts for their professional services, no guidance is in place to establish the official rates to be charged.

“According to the Court of Justice, the unofficial rates are taxed by the court registrar after negotiating the fee due to the respective expert,” the Auditor General said.

READ: Court experts 'racket' remains intact

In May, the Times of Malta reported that the Chamber of Advocates had described the system in place as being a “racket”. It said the selection of court experts by judges and magistrates was being based only on a system of familiarity and friendships.

The Auditor General noted that, despite highlighting the deficiencies in the system since 2003, no formal procedures regulating nominations of court experts were yet in place. He said a roster system, as suggested in article 650 of the Criminal Code, was not being prepared.

“Individuals are designated as court experts at the exclusive discretion of the respective magistrate or judge,” the Auditor General said.

He came across a number of expense claims by court experts that were not “duly substantiated”. Variations were found in the official expense rates and those actually paid out to court experts. The Auditor General said that, following a request to provide an explanation as to such discrepancies, an undated document with different rates was presented. The report said that, at times, discrepancies were still encountered between the unofficial rates and the actual rates charged.

Lack of transparency and inconsistencies in the chargeable rates in most of the expense claims made them difficult to verify, the Auditor General noted.

In a reply to the report, the Court of Justice said it had in the past started an exercise to update the tariffs for court experts contained in the Criminal Code but it seemed the matter was never followed up.

The Auditor General confirmed that the courts did not carry out criminal background checks on court experts.

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