A total of 295 people have had their sentences removed from the courts’ database on the basis of their right to be forgotten since the start of 2017, figures tabled in Parliament show.
The vast majority of them, 229, were sentences handed down by the criminal courts, with the remaining 66 coming from the civil courts.
The data was provided by Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis in response to a Parliamentary Question by the Opposition’s justice spokesperson Joe Ellis, who asked Zammit Lewis for the data, as well as a breakdown of the method used to decide about such requests.
Zammit Lewis said that once a request is submitted, it is discussed by an ‘ad hoc’ committee which includes the courts’ director, both the civil and criminal court registrars as well as the director of the Gozo courts. A decision is taken by the committee and this is then communicated to the applicant within 30 days.
As for the criteria on which the decision is taken, Zammit Lewis said that consideration is given to whether the sentence being available to the public is in the public interest.
There is no explanation of what exactly this means, especially considering that some people might become of public interest after they have had a sentence handed down against them.
Whether the removal of the sentence will have a negative impact on the public interest is also considered as well the relevant data protection legislation, the minister said.
Crucially, Zammit Lewis said that applications in which the person was found innocent are automatically removed.
The issue of court sentences being removed from the publicly available online database first hit the headlines in April 2018 when it was revealed that a lawyer who had been found guilty of a criminal offence, had had her sentence removed from the online database, and was subsequently given a warrant to practice, despite the conviction.
Back then, then courts director Frank Mercieca had been instructed to use his discretion when deciding upon such requests by then Justice Minister Owen Bonnici.
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