Court allows correction of surname in birth certificate

A court ordered that a birth certificate be amended following the erroneous translation of the name.

This was ordered in Hamdan Najm -v- Director of Public Registry delivered by Ms Justice Lorraine Schembri Orland on 12 May, 2015. 

In his application Najm explained that his birth certificate gave his surname as Najem instead of Najm. He further explained that he was always known as Najm and produced a number of documents indicating his surname, including his Syrian passport. The fact that his surname on his birth certificate was given as Najem caused difficulties for him and his family. He asked the court to order the necessary correction in light of Article 253 of the Civil Code. 

The Public Registry defended the action by explaining that the original birth certificate is Syrian and that registered in Malta was a faithful translation that the plaintiff forwarded. Furthermore, it was the plaintiff who wrote his name in English and the error could only be attributed to him, the Public Registry was not to blame. 

The First Hall of the Civil Court held that Article 253 of the Civil Code gave the right to any person to ask for a correction of the names mentioned in certificates. In this particular case the plaintiff, who was born in Syria is asking the court to allow a correction of his surname since it was written Najem, when it had to be Najm. Article 244 of the Civil Code states:

“(1) Any act of birth, marriage or death of a citizen of Malta drawn up or registered in a foreign country by a competent authority in that country, other than an act drawn up or registered under sub-article (l) or sub-article (2) of article 270, may, at the request of any person interested and upon the Director of the Public Registry being satisfied on the authenticity of such act, be registered in these Islands in the same manner as if it were an act drawn up by any of the persons mentioned in this Title.

“(2) The person making the request shall, for the purposes of registration, deliver to the Director the act in respect of which such request is made.”

In those cases where the birth certificate is derived from another country, the details are taken from a translation issued from that country. Although the translation is official, it does not exclude errors. The court commented that this was happening very often, especially translations from the Arabic language to the English language issued by Libyan authorities. The court recommended that the Maltese departments should engage translators who would verify the accuracy of these official translations. This would avoid numerous requests for corrections in official certificates. 

In this particular case the defendant, the Director of Public Registry, did not make a mistake, since it registered the plaintiff from a document the plaintiff had given the department. 

The court had to make its own verifications that the document submitted in court was authentic and could be used as a basis of the correction requested. The court appointed its linguistic expert, Nadia Lanzon and from her report it was explained that the correct translation of the plaintiff’s name is Najm.

The court then ordered all necessary corrections and ordered the plaintiff to pay the costs of the case since the defendant department was not to blame.

Malcolm Mifsud, Partner, Mifsud & Mifsud Advocates

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