The courts’ administration has seen a surge of requests for deletion of judgments from a public online database.

Court officials said that since Times of Malta had reported that Justice Minister Owen Bonnici had given the green light to start deleting judgments from the online server, a surge of requests had been sent to the courts’ administration asking for  removal.

A spokesman for the courts said that in the last three weeks, around 25 new requests had been received, more than the total received over the past three years.

The new procedure – discovered only by coincidence last month when Times of Malta was looking for a court sentence involving a prospective lawyer – allows aggrieved citizens to ask the courts administration to delete a judgment from the online server.

The Justice Minister admitted he had instructed the courts’ Director-General to start considering such requests, citing new data protection rules and provisions of ‘the right to be forgotten’.

The introduction of this new right was never made public.

According to Dr Bonnici, there were no set criteria on which the right was to be determined by the court authorities. He said “it was at the Director General’s discretion”, in which he had full trust.

It is at the Director General’s discretion

Court sources said however that the courts’ administration did not need any permission from the minister to consider such requests.

“According to the law, it is the courts’ data controller, under the provisions of the Data Protection Act, who has the sole discretion on such requests.

“No permission is needed from any minister,” the sources insisted.

Due to the sudden surge in requests and in order to make the system more organised, the courts’ Director General has set up a committee of civil servants, so that each application can be discussed and decided by a number of individuals.

More detailed criteria are in the process of being approved, so that every citizen will know what can be removed or not,  and the procedure to be used. The new standard procedures are also expected to be made available on the courts’ website.

Asked what criteria he has based his decisions on so far, Director General Frankie Mercieca said that various parameters were used to determine requests.

Mr Mercieca said that he had discussed the issue with the Data Protection Commissioner much before the matter was raised in the media and certain criteria were already in place.

He confirmed that the criteria were to be made stronger and a more orderly system was being put in place.

At the same time, Mr Mercieca insisted that the requests were only related to the online judgment system, as the court’s main database would remain intact.

So far, the court administration has decided upon 23 requests by individuals who wanted their judgments removed. Only one was refused.

The Chamber of Advocates expressed reservations on the new system and particularly on how it was introduced. For its part, the Association of Judges and Magistrates has kept silent on the issue, even though several members of the bench are not satisfied with the new system and how it is being administered.

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