The average length of money laundering court cases in Malta dropped by over half between 2019 and 2021, according to the EU Justice Scoreboard, published on Thursday.

The scoreboard presents an annual overview of the efficiency, quality, and independence of justice systems across the EU, using several sources of data to assess the effectiveness of each country’s national justice system.

It shows that while in 2019 it would take over 1,300 days for a money laundering court case to be resolved in Malta, this was shortened to just over 600 days by 2021.

Nonetheless, Malta’s 2021 figures remain significantly above average with only Romania, Spain and Slovenia reporting longer waits.

Longer delays in administrative cases

The estimated time needed to resolve administrative cases at first instance has shot up to just under 1,400 days or just under four years, comfortably the lengthiest period across all European countries, almost matching Malta’s previous worst score recorded in 2012.

Malta also has one of Europe’s lowest rates of resolved civil, commercial and administrative cases, with only Cyprus recording a lower rate throughout 2021. This is despite also having a below-average rate of such cases compared to European counterparts.

Malta also fared poorly when it came to the justice system’s accessibility to children, with Malta ranking joint-bottom with Cyprus in terms of arrangements for child-friendly proceedings in cases where children are suspects.

More investment but too few judges

The scoreboard finds that the government’s expenditure on the law courts is slowly creeping up since 2019, after dipping below 2012 levels.

Malta now spends a little over €100 for each person in the country, more than several other countries but less than half the expenditure of fellow minnow Luxembourg, which tops the table at over €250 per inhabitant.

On the other hand, investment in human resources appears to be sorely lacking. Malta still has one of the lowest rates of number of judges in Europe at under 10 judges per 100,000 people, with only Denmark and Ireland faring worse.

Similarly, the study finds that Malta ranks dead last when it comes to the number of female judges.

Conversely, Malta had a relatively high rate of 250 lawyers per 100,000 people in 2021, although this figure dropped sharply from the previous year when almost 350 lawyers per 100,000 people were recorded.

Government reaction

In a reaction to the scoreboard’s publication, the Justice Ministry welcomed the decrease in time needed to resolve litigious civil and commercial cases as well as money laundering cases, adding that “the increase in the incoming caseload overshadowed the efforts being put forward by our judiciary to expedite cases”.

“The ministry is indeed aware of this fact and has been proactively recruiting more judiciary in order to address the incoming caseload more efficiently. In fact, between 2021 and 2023, the judicial bench increased by 10 members which translates into a 23% increase.”

Meanwhile, Justice Minister Jonathan Attard pledged that the government “will continue to invest in the infrastructure and human resources” to improve the courts’ efficiency and ensure that justice will be served and seen to be served “in a reasonable time”.

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