The efficiency of Malta’s justice system has “further deteriorated” despite “some progress” being made to improve the judicial system, according to the European Commission's annual rule of law report.
The report points to the recent publication of the EU Justice Scoreboard, which found that it takes the courts almost four years to resolve administrative cases, the lengthiest wait in Europe.
Malta’s judicial system is described as poorly resourced with amongst the lowest number of judges per capita in Europe, despite the recent addition of four new judges to the bench.
The report also highlights “a lack of basic resources and skilled support staff”, citing stakeholders’ difficulties to find staff with the necessary skills to carry out administrative work.
Nonetheless, the report welcomes several improvements made by Malta, including the introduction of a disciplinary regime for prosecutors, efforts to improve the digitalisation of the justice system and recent changes to the way in which appeal cases are handled, which it says “could contribute to reducing the length of proceedings in criminal cases”.
The report also praises efforts to improve integrity in Malta’s public service, acknowledging that resources have been allocated to training civil servants and police.
However, the report criticises the failure to make any progress in involving the judiciary in the way that the Chief Justice is appointed, as well as the apparent ineffectiveness of the Permanent Commission against Corruption, which it says “has never challenged a decision by the Attorney General not to prosecute a case of corruption”.
The report also has harsh words for Malta’s golden passports scheme, saying that it presents “inherent risks of corruption” and once again calls on Malta to scrap the scheme.
The Commission’s report is ambivalent on the ongoing media reform process, saying that while “there has been some progress to improve the working environment of journalists” through the creation of a committee of experts on media, no other measures to safeguard journalists in Malta have been adopted.
It also criticizes the lack of transparency in media ownership, saying that media organisations should be obliged to “publish their ownership structures on their websites”, whilst calling for the introduction of laws regulating state advertising in the press.
The Commission highlights the fact that “citizens and media houses continue to face obstacles when requesting access to information”, saying that a review of the laws providing access to information has not yet been carried out.
In a statement, the Justice Ministry said the report “showcases the significant improvements that have taken place in Malta over the past year”.
According to the ministry, the report acknowledges the progress made through several initiatives adopted by the government in recent months, including the introduction of a disciplinary framework for prosecutors, the transfer of prosecution responsibilities from the police to the AG’s office, and the development of a strategy on digital justice.
PN, on the other hand, said that the report confirms the ongoing deterioration of Malta’s justice system, describing the situation as “unacceptable”.
The party called on Justice Minister Jonathan Attard to ensure that the courts are given the necessary financial and human resources to “carry out their duties in an effective and timely manner”. The current situation, the PN said, is infringing on citizens’ rights to access justice.