Face of divorce victory: Deborah Schembri says she does not charge exorbitant fees to file for a divorce.
Deborah Schembri, the figurehead of the 2011 divorce campaign, has rebutted suggestions that the €1,300 legal fee she charges for divorce cases is astronomical.
Effectively, Schembri's fees are almost 10 times the minimum legal tariff of €193: which she yesterday described as a "ridiculous" tariff that "fail(s) to reflect the work and responsibility that goes with the legal profession."
In comments to MaltaToday, which asked Schembri whether her legal fee was so high on account of the visibility she earned when she fronted a successful divorce law campaign last year, the lawyer said the €1,300 did not just cover her fee as a lawyer, but also included court fees at the registry, legal procurators' fees, affidavits, and other court documents.
"I have always followed the fee guidelines published by the Chamber of Advocates, but since there are no guidelines for divorce cases, I follow those tariffs for separation and annulment cases," Schembri said.
In answer to a parliamentary question, justice minister Chris Said revealed that divorce proceedings in Malta should cost €193. However this paltry sum has raised a few eyebrows among persons who have obtained a divorce.
While the government has said that lawyers are due €150 and the rest goes towards court expenses, persons have received bills which are much more expensive.
Schembri - today a Labour candidate following her success in the divorce campaign - said it was a "misnomer" that she was covering the majority of divorce cases in Malta. "At least 20 other lawyers are filing applications when I file a new case in court. People come to me as a family lawyer, just like others go to other lawyers."
Schembri also acknowledged that the boom in applicants for divorce, who are only eligible for the status once they have been separated for four or more years, led other lawyers to cut down their fees.
"Yes, it is true that there were lawyers who told me they cut their prices because they feared clients would come to my office to file for divorce.
"But does this mean I was greedy? Of course not. I stuck my neck out because I believed people deserved a second chance in life and not because I wanted to people to come to me," Schembri said.
"Had things gone differently nobody would be asking me how many divorce cases I'm doing now," she said. "There was a good chance that the referendum could have been lost. Today I have the honour to say that I formed part of something that was good."