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‘My fees are not exaggerated’ – divorce bill campaigner

Labour candidate and pro-divorce campaigner Deborah Schembri denies that her legal fees in divorce proceedings are astronomical.

Miriam Dalli
9 August 2012, 12:00am
Face of divorce victory: Deborah Schembri says she does not charge exorbitant fees to file for a divorce.
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."

Miriam Dalli graduated in communications studies from the University of M...
I would like to comment in general about lawyers. In one particular case 'in family court' the lawyer has asked to be paid before, his reason was becuase there will be too many people in court and it is not suitable to ask for payment infront of so many people. Then he did not even show up for the hearing. No receipt has been given and the client had just to go back home worse than he came. Is there anyone to report such claims. Once I called MFSA but they said they are not responsible for lawyers fees. Any advise please?
Ms Schembri I think you are worth much much more then that - Well done for sticking your neck out. I would definitely want somebody like you to represent me that has guts and courage - hard to put a price on that!
Kenneth Vella
This attack on Dr Schembri is a cheap populist shot against a serious professional lawyer who distinguished herself in the divorce debate. With regards to her fees one should ask how much time was involved and the complexity of the case. From that one can find out how much she charged per hour. After that one should compare that to the hourly rate the Government pays the blue-eyed lawyers it engages as consultants especially if the lawyer is a cousin of the Prime Minister.
In Malta sending a registered legal letter costs around 80 Euro, if I m not mistaken. About 60 Euro in court fees and the remaining 20 Euro for your lawyer's services, that is if you hire a cheap lawyer. So just sending a letter to inform your partner (or Ex?) to inform them you want to divorce from them can eat up to 41.5% of the 193 Euro budget envisaged by Mr. Chris Said. A simple search shows that the average legal expenses of a divorce in the USA are somewhere in between $10,000 and $20,000; while in the Uk it is around 15,000 Sterling pounds (according to the BBC (another source puts it at just 1,8000 pounds). Divorcing for just €1,300 seems a bargain in comparison. Anyways Ms. Schembri does not have a monopoly on divorce cases; and people requiring such services can search around and avail themselves of the services of those who offer the best service for the best price. Those lawyers who are currently overcharging their clients would have to lower their price to remain in business; until “Adam Smith's invisible hand” drives the price to an equilibrium, which is how a free market is supposed to work. But, what are the fees being charged by other lawyers for the same service? How come we get no information about what other lawyers are and have been charging for the same services, both before and after some of them cut their prices? Is there by any chance any reason to think that such information would simply burst this bubble story? Or rather reveal not only that Ms. Schembri's fees are not news material but that Mr. Said's assertions about the cost of a divorce are utterly ridiculous? Mr. Chris Said, and his political party, were against the civil right of divorce and tried their utmost to block such right. First they tried to block it in parliament by not giving the people a chance to make their voices heard on the issue. Subsequently they engaged in a scaremongering campaign for the No vote to win the referendum. There was also an instance where the church tried to intimidate Judges (or give an excuse to them) out of presiding Divorce cases. The €193 per divorce looks like a pathetic attempt to deny people a fundamental right by making sure no lawyer takes up such cases. Or maybe this is just a case of mud-slinging towards a believable political breath of fresh air. Anyways, if elected to parliament Ms. Schembri will have to cut back on her professional work and if appointed Minister she will have to completely forfeit all remuneration from her “Astronomical fees”. Maybe staying out of politics would have been the best financial option for her.... PS: Dear Saviour, the website reloading while your readers are watching a video or typing a comment will NOT generate more hits but loose you readers!
John Zammit
here we go again. gonzipn is on a smear campaign. its like the fox calling sour grapes. they lost dr schembri to the labour party and now they are at their old tricks again. unfortunately for dr said he seems to be the one quoted here indicating what the fees should be. but dr said is so dishonest when quoting this figure. he was on one tv the other day with dr herrera and dr gatt. both the latter learned doctors pointed out to dr said that the present government tariffs where lawyers are concerned are rediculous and dr said seemed to have agreed and pointed out that this is somehow being tackled so that tariffs reflect the actual workload that a lawyer inputs into a case. and by the way havnt heard the saying somewhere that you pay peanuts and get monkeys.....come on grow up gonzipn.
Karl Cucciardi
Can Miriam Dalli the author of this article explain her maths, how €1300 is equal to €193 for ten times? Why have you mentioned only how much Dr Schembri is charging and left all the others unmentioned. Have you exposed those lawyers/lawyer firms that were against divorce and are now taking divorce cases? Have you researched the type of service Dr Schembri gives her clients? Are their clients pleased with the result achieved thru the services of Dr. Schembri. Whenever I have a court case I always choose to defend my case the most able lawyer possible. What is the motive behind this article? Good luck Dr. Schembri as it is very likely that your presence in the PL is having the desired results. I hope you publish this.
Vanessa Bonnici
Incorrect English should use the word 'exorbitant' instead of 'exaggerated'. Another point, other jurisdictions allow for Do It Yourself Divorce, whereby one can file one's own divorce petition...
All lawyers charge extraordinary fees. First they tell you it is few hundreds to file a seperation. Then,when you start proceeding they start to charge extra for extra letters, extra meetings and they even suggest that you meet both lawyers in a restaurant (cordial meeting) to pay a meal for them. Some lawyers do not even give you receipts to avoid paying tax. Most of them do an excellent job - i.e. take all the money you have. Infact the first question that they ask you is 'what assests do you have'? Mind you they go to church as well on Sundays. And besides some of them are in politics and preach out 'the best for our country..' avoid tax like they do....
Carl Matthew Camilleri
@Progress Skuzi jiena ma qbadt ma hadd kif qied tallega int. Il kwotazzjoni tieghi hi semplici ghal bnedmien kollha inkluz jien u nerga nirrepeti li iva il flus hadu post Alla. Inzertat avukata brava u naqbel mieghek imma seta kien avukat jew professjonist iehor ghax l-istess kont nikteb. Il kumment tieghi kien generali ghal kullhadd. Rigward il bqijja tal paragrafu tieghek naqbel mieghek perfettament siehbi.
Janet Chircop Bray
Kieku chris said jara li kawzi ta alleggat stupru ta' zewg ahwa jitilghu quddiem il-qrati nahseb li jkun aktar utli fi kliemu.
josephine borg
Has anyone, among Dr. Schembri's clients, complained about her fees? Or is this the beginning of a character assassination campaign against a PL candidate? (Something smells terribly fishy in this article.)
Imma dawn x'affarijiet huma. Avukati hawn aktar milli ninhtieġu, allura jekk kull ma trid tagħmel tmur issib lil avukat ieħor u barra bid-daqq. Illum l-anqas fuq l-affarijiet tal-ħajja ta' kuljum ma hawn kontrol aħseb u ara fuq il-miżati tal-Avukati.
Lino Micallef
@jerry vera l-flus saru kollox ghal kattoliki prattikanti specjalment meta jiehdu min wara dahar kulhadd €500 fil gimgha u lilna jtuna l-fdal ta l-oqma. Anzi jmissek tara il motto tal PN ha tkun taf x'inhi? giet min ex Kap Nazzjonalista qabel ma miet l-ahhar kelmiet fejn qal : Religione e per la Patria. Naqbel perfettament. €5biljuni dejn , l-assi taru , risevi tad deheb bahh, entitajiet li fadal b'dejn lanqas kontabilita ma hemm, hekk qieghed isir, u sar, issa ha nibnu parlament bid-dejn b'xi vehicle praspura ohra xi stocks jehodom il bank jew banek jakkwista xi erba fil mijja u lilna li npoggu l-paga hemm niehdu wiehed fil mijja, a quick kill, jghidlula jerry hi. Dawn in nies li tarhom jitqarbnu, u, quddiem fil quddiesa biex juru u jipprovaw jghatu ezempju, kemm huma nies kattoliki prattikanti. Mela, Zebbiqawra lil Deborah qieghed issemmi ,meta ma nahsiebx li kella flus biex taghmel avvizi bhal ma ghamel Gonzi kemm felah caqlaq certu nies biex jppromovu kontra d-divorzju. Avukata onesta, lil dik rajtu? Mhur ghand professjonist differenti milli tipprattika L-Avukata, ha tara ta kwarta kemm jehodlok , imbghad ikkalkula hin pari m pari ha tinduna li Deborah ma hadet xejn hdejhom , anzi nahseb kieku ma sarx id-divorzju kienet tmur ahjar bis-separazzjonijiet. Aqbdu lil halliel vera mhux min hu serju. Min seraq u berbaq u hela bla razan, mela lil Deborah avukata onesta. Jien qatt ma ntqajt maghha imma No.1 ghax hierga fuq n-naha taghna.
Joseph Saliba
Ghal li jista jkun avukati nazzjonalisti mhux jaccetaw kawzi ghad-divorzju?
Nazzareno azzopardi
@ zeppi Ghax ma issaqsix dawk li riedu jisseparaw qabel dahal id divorzju Kemm eluf kienu jehdulhom, specjalment il knisja biex alla biss jaf Kemm il sena wara kienu forsi jghatuhom l annullament jew separazzjoni. Ghalfejn tahseb li il knisja kienet daqshekk kontra id divorzju ?
Carl Matthew Camilleri
Eh il flus saru alla ghal bniedem illum. L-aqwa li niftahhru li ahna kattolici u Kristjani wkoll.
Anna Callus
St Clare of Assisi has come two days early this year.
Lawrence Zammit
Remember Dr Schenbri that once you have decided to join the PL the vultures out there are already waiting, with their talons spread, to swoop on you and tear you apart. You would be neither spared from the spiteful blog sites. The fact they do so means that they fear your potential, I have no doubt that you are taller than most of them. Prosit for a job well done (Divorce Referendum) and sincerely hope that you will be one of our future MPs and deservedly so too!
Raymond Mintoff
Cheap political tatic by Chris said I challenge him to name those lawyers that have charged only €195 for divorce cases they handled including all the documents and papers as mentioned by Dr Debohra Schembri.
Mark Ciappara
Dr Schembri imma ghaliex kont tant favur id-divorzju , ghax verament temmen fit-tieni cans jew ghax bhala avukat xammejt id-dhul enormi li kont se taghmel
Anthony Demanuele
So no fee guidelines for Divorce proceedings thereby apparently allows advocates carte blanche to charge what they like.Well here is a suggestion! Given that Divorce has been in legislation for over a year isn't it about time that the Chamber of Advocates issue such fee guidelines?Duh!
enter to win