One year on from the appointment of a new Robert Abela administration it is timely to take stock of what has been achieved, what has yet to be completed and the way forward.

In this first year, the Ministry for Justice, Equality and Governance, under my tenure, has spearheaded extensive and bold legislative and institutional reforms.

In 2020, we marched on with the aim of implementing reforms that were long due. We have done this in the spirit of addressing the gaps in our legislation, while updating archaic laws that are no longer relevant to the times we live in. In doing so, the government also met the targets of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe and the European Commission, which both stated that the reforms are unparalleled.

The government overhauled the appointment process of the President of the Republic and the chief justice, both of whom are to be appointed by a two-thirds majority of the House of Representatives.

Among other important reforms undertaken in 2020, one notes the following: the right of the auditor general, the ombudsman and the commissioner for standards in public life to appear as an injured party whenever the attorney general chooses not to prosecute, as well as the reformed appointment process of the police commissioner.

It is very pertinent to note that today’s prime minister chose to give up many of his predecessors’ political powers in order to ensure that relevant checks and balances are clearly in place and fully functional.

All the aforementioned are but a few of the changes undertaken last year. The challenge we face now is to ensure that all reforms are put into practice. We need to be, as Politico puts it, a ‘best practice’ both in terms of promulgation of legislation as well as in real implementation terms.

This year, I shall see through the implementation of all 10 bills which have already received positive feedback from the Venice Commission. Upon finalisation of these bills, the government would have concluded another important step forward to further safeguard and strengthen our reputation as a nation.

This administration will also continue to work with the President of the Republic to continue the good work on the constitutional convention, in order to provide a rehaul to our constitution to ascertain that the highest law of the land is at par with today’s realities.

Today’s prime minister chose to give up many of his predecessors’ political powers- Edward Zammit Lewis

The latter is even more necessary if we are to consider that there has not been a total revision of the constitution since Malta became a republic in 1974.

As I have already publicly made clear, court efficiency will be among the foremost priorities for the current year. This plays a pivotal role to uphold the rule of law, by ensuring that all citizens, institutions, agencies and entities are all held accountable. The latter can only be achieved if we have timely, just and fair remedies.

An efficient court system is an essential ingredient for human deve­lopment which comes about through the effective enjoyment of economic, fiscal and social rights.

Through a robust court system we can have effective rule of law measures that further encourage both national and international investment and business.

As minister for justice, it is worrying to hear that there may be instances where justice is being delayed whenever cases are prolonged unnecessarily because, yes, it is true, justice delayed is justice denied.

For this reason, I am adamant to tackle the backlog in our court systems and equip the judiciary with the required and updated tools. This includes, but is not limited to, fully digitalised law courts.

It is in this context that bill 169 was debated in the house of representatives. It really introduces a reformed procedural process for more efficiency before the court of appeal in its superior jurisdiction.

What is more, the process to fully digitalise the submission of judicial acts in both the criminal and civil jurisdiction will also be finalised in the first quarter of the year.

I also welcome plans to further recruit staff within the offices of the state advocate and the attorney general, thereby ensuring that these two very important systems function in an effective manner.

It is unacceptable to hear of individuals who are discriminated against, either in their daily lives or at their workplace. No person should be discriminated against anywhere, especially in a republic founded on hard work and fundamental freedoms. Which is why my colleagues and I believe in an equal Malta, where people do possess the ability to put into practice what we have on paper, including the equality bills.

The equality bills (that is, bills 96 and 97) were carefully thought out and drafted to reflect that everyone should be treated equally. They ensure that everyone’s rights are duly protected, coupled with the required administrative capacity, giving expedient and effective rights to victims of discrimination.

All these measures are only a few among many.

As a lawyer who practised litigation in court regularly prior to becoming a cabinet member, I often noted that we need to improve our processes and court systems. Henceforth, it is on this basis that I believe in these positive reforms we have undertaken as a government in 2020 and which will continue further in 2021.

I look forward to continuing being of service to all Maltese and Gozitans by implementing more reforms for a more efficient and accessible justice system and equality for all and in all aspects.

Edward Zammit Lewis is justice minister.

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