Court delays could see people facing hunting illegality allegations go unpunished if the judicial process stretches on much longer, police sources are saying.

The insiders, familiar with investigating and prosecuting crimes allegedly committed by hunters and trappers, told Times of Malta that court procedures are moving so slowly lately they fear cases would soon become time-barred.

“We have cases, from 2018, that have not yet been heard. Soon, we won’t even be able to do so because there is such a backlog of cases and things are taking too long,” one source said.

Other cases involving trapping illegalities, such as the using of bird callers or catching protected species, were also edging close to being time-barred, the source added.

Court cases related to hunting crimes used to be heard by Magistrate Anthony Vella. However, on becoming judge, he was replaced by Magistrate Astrid Grima.

The sources described the rate at which these cases were progressing as being “too slow” but acknowledged that the caseload of the judiciary made it “almost humanly impossible” for a single magistrate to keep up.

As a result, some hunters who had allegedly committed offences months or even years ago remained in possession of their licence since this could not be revoked unless they are found guilty of a crime.

Almost humanly impossible for a single magistrate to keep up

The sources added that the court system had already slowed down due to the COVID-19 pandemic and now it was clear that it was not coping.

Delays have long been a dilemma for the administrators of the courts of law.

Just two weeks ago, Chief Justice Mark Chetcuti addressed the opening of the forensic year and called on the government to appoint more judges to the bench to address worsening delays and bottlenecks.

Chetcuti said that, although those presiding over court cases were doing their utmost, there still were not enough members of the judiciary to keep up with the workload.

In a rule of law report issued by the European Commission last month, concerns were raised over the efficiency of the justice system, “with judicial proceedings being very long at all levels and in all categories of cases”.

In an interview with Times of Malta before his departure, the former US chargé d’affaires Mark Shapiro had suggested having courts working longer hours.

Shapiro had said it was unimaginable for the US courts to work half-days as is the practice in Malta.

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