Malta’s judicial system gets quite a lot of flak for dragging its feet, but statistics show it was relatively efficient in at least one aspect of the job last year.
Information from a Freedom of Information request filed by Lovin Malta shows that 757 magisterial inquires were opened last year, while 1,113 were closed. This means they managed to reduce their backlog by 356 cases over the past 12 months, which included a period where several court services were shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Magistrate Doreen Clarke was top of the pack in terms of concluded inquiries, closing no fewer than 158 last year. She was followed by Marse-Ann Farrugia, who closed 151, Simone Grech (98), Nadine Lia (87), and Claire Stafrace Zammit (76).
At the other end of the ladder, magistrate Victor Axiak only managed to close six inquiries, and he’s joined at the bottom of the table by Yana Micallef Stafrace, who closed 12, Rachel Montebello (16), Caroline Farrugia Frendo (24), and Astrid May Grima (25).
Josette Demicoli was given 60 new inquiries last year, more than any other magistrate, and she was followed by Charmaine Galea (52 new inquiries), Yana Micallef Stafrace and Natasha Galea Sciberras (both 47).
Meanwhile, Monica Vella was only given two and Simone Grech wasn’t given a single one.
The latest statistics show there are currently 1,415 pending magisterial inquiries, which while being a considerable workload, is much lower than the number registered at the start of 2018, when there were 2,163 open inquires.
Gabriella Vella is currently presiding over a whopping 179 inquiries, more than any other magistrate. She is followed by Ian Farrugia and Natasha Galea Sciberras (both 136), Doreen Clarke (119), and Astrid May Grima (113).
Meanwhile, Neville Camilleri is only in charge of five, while Donatella Frendo Dimech is in charge of 10 and Simone Grech is in charge of 17.
Magisterial inquires are assigned according to whoever is duty magistrate of the day, which works through a roster system. Magistrates are tasked with looking into suspected crimes, summoning witnesses to court before deciding whether there’s enough evidence for criminal charges to be filed.
Several years ago, criminal lawyer and former PN MP Franco Debono called for a pool of specialised magistrates to work on inquiries on a full-time basis.
While his proposal was never taken up, it was recently resuscitated in Parliament by Shadow Justice Minister Karol Aquilina, who said it’s unfair to expect magistrates to deal with both court sittings and inquiries in an efficient manner.
Cover photo: Magistrates and judges at a mass in St John’s Co-Cathedral to commemorate the 2020 forensic year
How do you think Malta’s judicial system can become more effective?