The government is trying to identify a site or a building that could house the Gozo law courts situated in the old Citadel and which would be fully accessible for workers, lawyers and visitors, Times of Malta has learnt.

A spokesperson for the justice ministry said the government would be identifying a site or property that could adequately host the Gozo courts, as promised in the Labour election manifesto.

He said the ministry would provide an update on this matter “in the coming days”.

Gozo lawyers are disappointed there was no mention of the move in Budget 2023

The question arose when only €100,000 from Budget 2023 was voted to the Gozo ministry for the upkeep of the Gozo law courts, which require a major overhaul.

The spokesperson clarified that the Court Services Agency, which administers both Malta and Gozo’s courts, was allocated €22 million and a further €600,000 in capital budget, which includes the upkeep of the courts in both Malta and Gozo. Most of this money is spent on administration and general day-to-day running.

Relocation of the Gozo law courts has been on the cards for years. They operate from a crammed and inaccessible building that was once a palace for the governor inside the Citadel.

Over the years, the caseload increased and the space got smaller, resulting in administrative and logistical difficulties and hardship for the employees and lawyers working there.

The present facilities include three small courtrooms and several other small rooms used to store court documents, court exhibits and files.

The law courts (right) are situated in the Citadel, Victoria.The law courts (right) are situated in the Citadel, Victoria.

PN unveiled plans for relocation in 2012

Plans for relocation were first unveiled by the Nationalist administration in 2012. When Labour returned to power following the 2013 general election, the plan for new premises to be built in another part of Victoria was reviewed but then shelved.

Gozitan lawyers told Times of Malta they were disappointed there was no mention of the move in Budget 2023.

A spokesperson for Avukati Għawdex said the current court building was inaccessible and small for the number of cases instituted in Gozo, where, sometimes, even the room designated for use by lawyers was taken over by sittings. 

The group held a meeting with Justice Minister Jonathan Attard in July and discussed the main challenges including the lack of workers and marshals within the court, delays in the notification system as well as the “outdated court building”.

A spokesperson for the lawyers said despite promises that these issues would be addressed in the shortest time possible, the challenges were still present.

Failed health, safety and accessibility standards

The dire situation at the Gozo courthouse came to a head last year when Times of Malta revealed the court had failed to meet minimum health and safety standards during an audit by the Occupational Health and Safety Authority (OHSA).

The authority had found multiple shortcomings and imposed a fine.

Police charges were eventually filed against two senior government officials, Gozo courts director general Mary Debono Borg, 59, of Fontana and Court Services Agency chief executive Eunice Maria Grech Fiorini, 42, of Tarxien.

The charges were dropped at the 11th hour after paying a €1,500 administrative fine imposed by the Occupational Health and Safety Authority.

Borg is the mother of Nationalist Party MP for Gozo Alex Borg.

Aside from the OHSA report, the Gozo law courts have also been found to fall short by the Commission for the Rights of Persons with Disability.

It concluded that the courts were not only vertically inaccessible, with stairs being the only way to get from the ground floor to the courtrooms on an upper floor, but also failed the horizontal test because the different floors have several levels.

The commission made a list of recommendations that it hoped would deliver a “barrier-free court system” in a building that would be fully accessible and not create any health hazards.

The audit had been ordered by Magistrate Joe Mifsud after a violent incident took place outside the courtrooms.

When the magistrate asked for video footage of the incident, he was informed there was no CCTV.

 

 

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