Almost 2,500 cases at the compilation of evidence remain pending in Malta’s courts, which continue to struggle with major delays.
Justice Minister Jonathan Attard revealed that by the end of 2021, 2,504 cases were stuck in the compilation of evidence stage, 50 of which were in the Gozitan courts.
Still, Malta’s judiciary was able to conclude almost 660 compilations of evidence over the year, giving some indication that the judiciary suffers from a lack of resources in dealing with the caseload, rather than dealing with cases themselves.
It should be noted that the conclusion of a compilation of evidence does not mean the case is closed, as major crimes and offences will need to appear before a trial by jury before being sentenced.
For example, the compilation of evidence against Alfred Degiorgio, George Degiorgio and Yorgen Fenech over the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia has concluded, but now the cases are stuck in the arduous process before a trial begins.
According to previous figures, there are 80 pending jury trials, some going back as far as 2008. Only 8 of the 80 pending cases had been scheduled for a trial, while seven others are awaiting their date.
Delays in Malta’s courts are a major issue plaguing the country. While figures for the length of criminal cases are not immediately available, a 2020 EU study of Malta’s courts found that its delays are some of the longest in Europe.
It takes an average of 2,250 days to resolve a money laundering case, 1,100 days to resolve a civil suit if it goes to appeal, and 1,000 days for administrative matters. In each instance, Malta tops the list by some margin.
Some compilations of evidence in criminal cases take decades, with Lovin Malta reporting extensively the case of Mason Nehls, the youth who has been waiting 11 years for his case to be heard in court, and Chris Bartolo.
Delays can have fatal consequences with suspected killers able to walk out on bail because of delays, only to commit other crimes.
Delays should not be a major surprise, with lawyers regularly deferring cases and creating significant backlogs in Malta’s courts. Meanwhile, human resources remain worryingly low with Malta having some of the lowest numbers of judges per 100,000 inhabitants, despite having one of the largest numbers of lawyers per 100,000 inhabitants.
Attard has proposed imposing legal timeframes to clamp down on the plague of delays in the criminal justice system.
However, the proposals are controversial among the legal community, with countless sources insisting that the proposed changes will do nothing to solve the issues.
In fact, Malta already sets a 30-day limit in the compilation of evidence stage, but the rule is seldomly followed with extensions, which are supposed to be the exemption becoming the norm.
What should be done to solve Malta’s court issues?