A total of 112 court sentences were, so far, withdrawn by the government from the public online database of the courts and other requests are being considered in view of the ‘right’ to be forgotten, the Times of Malta is informed.

Last year, Times of Malta had revealed that, following an unannounced decision by Justice Minister Owen Bonnici, the Court Registrar was instructed to start considering whether a court sentence could be withdrawn from online public viewing in order to protect the names of those involved in the case.

The removed sentences would, however, still be kept in the court’s registry and on an online database reserved exclusively for the legal profession.

New statistics published in Parliament, following a request by Nationalist MP Karol Aquilina, show that the Court Registrar was inundated with such requests following news of this new ‘right’.

Dr Bonnici told Parliament that while until 2017, there were only 22 requests to remove court sentences from the online public system, in 2018, soon after this new ‘right’ was revealed by this newspaper, there were 121 requests made to the Court Registrar to strike off online court sentences. 

These were followed by another 33 in 2019, with the total requests reaching 176 so far.

Court Registrar inundated with requests following the news of new right

According to the Justice Minister, nearly two out of every three such requests made were accepted by the court authorities.

So far, 121 court sentences have been withdrawn from the public online system while the registrar is also considering another 22 requests. A total 41 requests have been turned down.

The introduction of this new ‘right’ was only discovered by coincidence.

In the beginning of 2018, a controversy erupted over the granting of a law warrant to two law graduates who years before had been found guilty of theft and were given a conditional discharge.

Although the examining judges ignored the court sentences in their assessment, and gave their green light for the issue of a warrant to Yanica Barbara and Thomas Sant, the Chamber of Advocates and the Chief Justice objected as the law clearly states that a warrant to practise law should only be given to persons “of good conduct and good morals”.

However, despite the objections, the government still issued the two students with a warrant.

During the controversy, it had also resulted that the court sentence finding one of the warranted lawyers guilty of theft was somehow removed from the court’s online public database just a few days after the Chamber of Advocates had started querying the issue.

When the Justice Minister was asked about the issue, he had revealed that he had introduced the right to be forgotten through verbal instructions to the Court Registrar.

At the time, Dr Bonnici had also admitted that there were no written criteria about the new policy, which had been introduced without any fanfare.

Later, Court Registrar Frank Mercieca had formulated and published written criteria about who was entitled to make such a request.

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