Long-awaited legal amendments that address court delays by shortening the cumbersome compilation of evidence process have reached “an advanced stage”, according to the Chamber of Advocates.

The amendments are currently being discussed by the government and the Law Commission.

Last year, then justice minister Edward Zammit Lewis said the government was considering speeding up criminal proceedings by removing the requirement of a long-winded compilation of evidence stage for certain cases.

Sources said the amendments being discussed do not do away with the stage completely but eliminate parts of the process that lead to unnecessary delays.

In July last year, a European Commission rule of law report found that lengthy court proceedings remain a serious concern in Malta.

The previous year, a European Union report showed that criminal cases take 298 days, more than double the EU median of 122 days.

Second-instance criminal cases take 534 days compared to the 104-day average, five times the length of time.

In a recent case, Times of Malta reported how a man who was savagely attacked two years ago is still living in fear. His alleged aggressor – who had been granted bail – was recently charged with murder.

In August 2020, Emil Marinov was slashed more than 20 times with a butcher’s cleaver in a horrific frenzy of violence.

A man – Elliot Paul Busuttil – was charged over the attack and granted bail. Less than two years later, the alleged assailant was arrested and charged in court again, this time with the gruesome killing of taxi driver Mario Farrugia, whose corpse was discovered in the boot of his abandoned Peugeot 407 in the Qormi valley earlier this month.  

While the presumption of innocence is sacred, this raised concerns about the repercussions of court delays when it came to repeat offenders.

The previous year, a European Union report showed that criminal cases take 298 days, more than double the EU median of 122 days

A colonial hangover 

When a person is accused of a crime, the compilation of evidence starts, during which the police presents its evidence before a magistrate. 

Throughout the process, the case documents are sent for review to the Attorney General’s Office and, each time, a month-long deadline is given.

This process happens several times during the compilation, resulting in cases dragging on for years.

Cases are further delayed by postponements mainly because one of the parties involved, witnesses or the magistrate is indisposed. Cases that carry a punishment which goes beyond the remit of the Magistrates’ Court then go to trial before a judge where all the people who testified in the compilation of evidence are brought back to court to testify again. 

Malta emulated the British legal system in having the compilation of evidence stage prior to a criminal trial, but the British removed this requirement to speed up the process while Malta retained it. 

Questions sent to the justice ministry for more details remained unanswered.

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