A judicial tribunal administers justice, by ensuring that laws are upheld, enforced and observed and that those who break them are punished. It must, therefore, lead by example.
The administration of the Gozo court and their political masters therefore have a lot to answer for, having been found in breach of health and safety regulations.
The situation is so bad it is not only the Occupational Health and Safety Authority that is concerned and demands immediate remedial action but also lawyers and staff members themselves. It had even failed an accessibility audit conducted by the Commission for the Rights of Persons with Disability.
The historical building within the Citadel, in Victoria, has many limitations, which are probably the root cause of the prevailing situation.
Talk of alternative premises, whether a new structure or modifying one already standing, has been going on for years.
In late 2013, then Gozo minister Anton Refalo spoke about a new building incorporating state-of-the-art facilities. But, although described by him as a “main priority for Gozo”, nothing came out of it and, four years later, it emerged that his successor, Justyne Caruana, had put the project on hold.
She had her own plans but, again, nothing materialised by the time she was, in turn, replaced as Gozo minister.
It is not only the physical aspect that is lacking but also the functionality of the place. The court administration is probably so overwhelmed it is at a loss as to where to start and it is very likely the political masters have not been giving too much attention to the issue. This can also be due to the fact that responsibility for the court in Gozo is shared by the Gozo ministry, for the building, the justice ministry and the court services agency, the last two catering for operations.
Everybody’s business is usually nobody’s business. But when a violent incident occurred outside one of the halls and Magistrate Joseph Mifsud wanted to check the CCTV footage, he realised there was none and decided he would do something about it.
The Occupational Health and Safety Authority was ordered to inspect the place and it identified 16 areas where action was needed. It noted in its report that the Gozo court does not meet the minimum requirements in terms of a number of occupational health and safety laws.
Court director general Mary Debono Borg was given three months to comply with the law and when the second inspection was set to take place, she asked to be accompanied by her legal counsel.
Ironically, the lawyer she chose – Joseph Ellis – was one of the three Nationalist MPs who, not long afterwards, signed a public statement expressing concern about the situation and solidarity with lawyers, employees and the public who needed to go to the court in Gozo.
The second inspection established that remedial action was fully or partially taken in only five of the 16 areas.
The director general committed herself to give a written explanation for the failure to fulfil her legal obligations in full but this had not reached the health and safety watchdog by the time it drew up its report.
An administrative fine will, therefore, be issued for an outright violation of the law… by a court of law.
The minister/s on whose desk the buck stops will, no doubt, try to play down the situation, as the justice ministry has already done. But heads should roll.
Upholding the law is paramount, especially within Lady Justice’s abode.
Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.Support Us