Chief Justice Mark Chetcuti on Thursday called on the government to appoint more judges to the bench as the effort being put in by the judiciary was not enough to solve the “biggest challenge” of court delays.

In a statement to mark the opening of the Forensic Year – which is usually held in a packed courtroom but was skipped this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic -  Mr Justice Chetcuti said members of the judiciary were doing their utmost to decide on cases speedily.

At the same time, however, they were careful to respect the dignity of all those who appeared before them as, otherwise, true justice will not be delivered. 

Despite the efforts of the judiciary, at much personal and family sacrifice, the challenge of court delays cannot be properly addressed unless the numbers increase. 

“The effort on the part of the judiciary alone is not enough. It is evident that it requires a legislative intervention by increasing the number of judges not only because of the volume of cases but also because of the growing specialisation in the field of certain cases,” he said.

The issue of court delays was also highlighted in a rule of law report issued by the European Commission on Wednesday. The report flagged concern over the efficiency of the justice system, “with judicial proceedings being very long at all levels and in all categories of cases”.

The rule of law report was the first of its kind and is part of a European Commission reform aimed at providing more oversight of member states' governance issues from Brussels.  

But aside from this issue, Mr Justice Chetcuti also commented about the need to amend certain laws. Although some of the needed amendments are small and may be seen as insignificant, they will help speed up the process with the removal of some unnecessary procedural bureaucracy.

Judges and the administration of the laws court also need more support in technology as well as proper training and appropriate support staff working to help alleviate the almost constant pressure.

“I am confident that with effort, the unnecessary and unreasonable delay will be overcome not in the blink of an eye but with results that testify to this ambitious but realistic goal from year to year.

"With the perseverance and goodwill of all parties involved with the administration of justice, this milestone can be achieved,” the Chief Justice said in his first Forensic Year speech.

He said that despite the difficulties brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw the closure of all law courts as a preventative measure, court work continued remotely. 

The Chief Justice said the government and the University should consider revising the law course for more specialised training for lawyers who want to work in court. Although there are many lawyers who graduate every year, only a few of them actually practise their profession in court. 

“There is already a problem [with numbers] and if this problem is not addressed, in the future we may have a situation where there is no choice of lawyers willing to work in court and a smaller pool to choose from to become judges or prosecutors. In the criminal and commercial field, there is a great shortage of experts who have the necessary skills to assist the judiciary in these particular areas or who choose to practice their specialised profession in the criminal field,” he said.

Meanwhile, earlier, Archbishop Charles Scicluna concelebrated Mass to mark the opening of the new Forensic Year which usually restarts court work after the summer lull. President George Vella, Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis, various ministers and members of the judiciary as well as lawyers attended the Mass at the St John's Co-Cathedral. 

In his homily, Mgr Scicluna urged the judiciary to continue their fight against injustice without fear of violence or corruption. 

“The judge or magistrate should not be afraid when he feels a lamb surrounded by wolves because if he is pure, upright and wise, then he will have everything necessary to stop the wolves of arrogance, violence, corruption, lying and any illegality,” he told members of the judiciary. 

“The law is not enough. The judge must have the ability to humbly consider the circumstances of the case and apply the principles of law to the case concretely. It is prudence that gives you the light to apply the spirit of the law and the principle of safeguarding the common good which is at the heart of every true law. Because you're not a robot, you're not a rubber stamp,” he said. 

He continued: “The judge’s judgment and the magistrate’s decision must come not only from science but also from conscience. It must come from an expression of balance, fairness, but also of courage. This will be your peace of mind. If there is something that torments you, you do not have the necessary serenity to judge. True, fair judgment leaves a sweet taste of serenity in the judge.”

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