While criticism of the judicial system in Malta is rife, little reference is ever made to the root causes of this criticism and the major problems faced by the judicial system: namely the acute lack of adequate space, trained and dedicated personnel and resources in the law courts. 

The current situation of court personnel in the Maltese courts, both judicial and unjudicial, is critical and the whole court administration, which is the sole prerogative of the government, is in a very precarious and dire situation.

Serious and bold measures need to be taken immediately. The efforts of the judiciary on their own are not enough to address these problems.

As a rule, every member of the judiciary needs a deputy registrar to manage cases and sittings, a court attorney and/or judicial assistant to assist the judiciary in the hearing of the cases and in drafting court judgments, a court marshall to call the cases and ensure security in the court hall, a court messenger to assist with the handling of the files and acts to be seen to, one or more court assistants to type out all the transcripts of the evidence, a court clerk to process the various acts which are presented in the court registry for the particular member of the judiciary, and a driver.

Unfortunately, to date, due to the financially restrictive working conditions, pressure of work and long working hours, none of the members of the judiciary are provided with the full complement needed.

The number of deputy registrars is ever decreasing. Four new magistrates recently appointed were unable to commence work as they were not provided with a deputy registrar. Eventually, deputy registrars were removed from other duties and reassigned to the new magistrates, leaving a void in the posts they previously administered. An inadequate makeshift solution bearing in mind the huge responsibilities inherent in the role of deputy registrars.

Court clerks, rather than being assigned individually to each member of the judiciary, are shared with two or three members of the judiciary, thus being unable to cope with the volume of acts and documents presented daily.

Many members of the judiciary are not provided with court assistants, meaning transcription not being delivered in time, thus leading to unnecessary adjournments of sittings due to the unavailability of court acts.

None of the judiciary have court marshals, their duties being ‘temporarily’ assigned to the court messengers years ago, who have remained dealing with these additional duties ever since, thus being unable to cope with the volume of work in the courts’ chambers and the court sittings contemporaneously.

The judiciary will not be able to fulfil its role in ensuring that the rule of law in Malta is truly upheld

Several members of the judiciary do not even have a court messenger assigned to them, as a result of which  the administration reassign messengers from one member of the judiciary to another on a daily basis to ensure that the court sittings take place, thus prohibiting these messengers from carrying out the work they are meant to be actually doing.

None of the magistrates are provided with a court attorney to help them in their work, despite being inundated with an ever-increasing workload, while many judges and magistrates are not provided with a judicial assistant to help them in their legal research work and other judicial duties.

Unfortunately, where recruitment of competent and well-trained staff is concerned, the introduction of the Court Services Agency has further exacerbated and accentuated the dire situation of staff recruitment, with many seasoned members of the staff having to leave the courts to other departments due to financial restrictions imposed on the agency by the government.

The situation in court is, therefore,  certainly critical.

The government has to stop dealing with the court’s requirements on a piecemeal, management-by-crisis basis  and needs to come up with a serious long-term plan to tackle the difficulties being faced by the judiciary and the operation of the courts of law, investing heavily in adequate infrastructure, enhanced resources and attractive financial packages for competent adequate personnel to work in court.

This cannot be achieved so long as the agency remains subjected to government service financial restrictions.

If no urgent and immediate actionis taken, the situation is bound to further deteriorate, this leading to the eventual collapse of the essential institution responsible for maintaining the rule of law, namely the law courts.

Without an effective and efficient judicial system, no free and democratic society can thrive, both economically and socially, and unless the government, being ultimately responsible for the running of the courts, takes immediate and serious action, there may never be a truly effective and efficient court, particularly in view of the ever increasing load of cases which the courts are being faced with.

The judiciary understands that it has its duties and obligations towards the citizen and society to ensure that the rule of law is enforced in Malta, which duties it strives to adhere to, within the ambits of each and everyone’s capabilities and limitations.

Nevertheless, the limited number of judiciary members, the ever increasing and complex workload and the ever decreasing number of adequately trained and competent staff, not to mention shortage of work space, is such that the judiciary will never be in a position to assure that the rule of law will be adequately enforced in Malta, unless the government seriously invests in the courts.

The Courts of Justice are an essential part of the enforcement of the rule of law and, so long as it continues being denied the resources to work, the judiciary will not be able to fulfil its role in ensuring that the rule of law in Malta is truly upheld.

Mr Justice Francesco Depasquale, president, Association of Judges & Magistrates of Malta

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us