Court delays are destroying lives while criminals get released on bail on basic technicalities. However, Malta’s Justice Minister insists that work is being done to remedy some issues but will steer clear of commenting on individual cases.
In comments given to Lovin Malta following questions on his silence on the issue, Edward Zammit Lewis backed a digital strategy, a new mediation process in old rent cases, a new annex, and an amendment in Code of Organisation and Civil Procedure to help solve the growing systemic problem.
“The Minister understands the frustration of public opinion about such issues, and these are complex matters that are also being addressed,” a spokesperson said.
Delays in Malta’s courts is a major issue plaguing the country. While figures for the length of criminal cases is 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 recently shedding light on the case of Mason Nehls, the youth who has been waiting 11 years for his case to be heard in court.
Most recently, Andrew Mangion, the man charged with murdering his estranged partner Eleanor Mangion Walker in 2016, was let out bail for a violent robbery he committed while out on bail for the murder.
These releases are costing lives. Daniel Muka, the main suspect in the murder of Chris Pandolfino and Ivor Maciejowski, was out on bail for the 2017 attempted murder of three police officers and €330,000 jewellery heist.
A compilation of evidence must be concluded within one month, according to Maltese law, but the rule is seldom followed. Extensions are regular and Malta’s courts are obliged to release a person on bail if a bill of indictment is not issued, with the presumption of innocence reigning supreme.
Indeed, suspects can only be kept in prison for a maximum of 20 months before their trial begins if they are charged with an offence that carries a maximum prison sentence of nine years or more. The maximum time limit is reduced to 16 months if their alleged crime carries a maximum sentence of between four to nine years and to 12 months if it carries a sentence of fewer than four years.
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 number of judges per 100,000 inhabitants, despite having one of the largest number of lawyers per 100,000 inhabitants.
In a statement, the Justice Minister said:
“A fundamental principle of the rule of law is to ensure there is no political interference whatsoever in the operations of our judiciary. In absolute respect towards the third pillar of our democracy, the Minister makes it clear that he is not the spokesperson for the judiciary. Clearly, everyone expects efficiency from our judicial system and I can assure you that this is also the working philosophy of the newly appointed Chief Justice.”
“The Justice Ministry reaffirms its full commitment to permanently address such matters as necessary and that were also faced by many previous Administrations, and the Minister also reiterates his primary pledge to ensure that justice must not only be done, but it must also be seen to be done at all times.”
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