€17 million spent on court experts over two years

Malta’s courts have spent over €17 million on specialised experts over the span of two years, figures tabled in parliament last week show.

Malta’s courts have spent over €17 million on specialised experts over the span of two years, figures tabled in parliament last week show.

The information was tabled by justice minister Jonathan Attard in response to a parliamentary question by Labour MP Katya De Giovanni.

According to the data, over €9.3 million was spent on court experts in 2021 alone, of which €47,000 was spent on psychological experts. In 2022, the court spent €8.1 million, of which €90,000 was expenditure on psychological experts.

MaltaToday had previously reported on the expenditure on court experts, which reached €9.7 million in 2020. Of these, €6.5 million were spent on foreign experts and €3.1 million on national experts.

Expenditure on court experts in 2019 jumped up to €7.8 million from the €3.5 million in 2018. Spending on court experts was the lowest in 2014 during the last eight years at just €1.2 million. Experts appointed by court were paid a total of €1.4 million in 2013, €1.3 million in 2015 and €1.3 million in 2016. €2.5 million were spent in 2017.

The Maltese parliament is currently discussing a Bill to digitise the country’s judicial system, focusing on provisions to allow for documents by the court to be transferred electronically to the Attorney General.

This Bill is one of many attempts to help speed up a judicial process that is often held in contempt for interminable delays, in a bid to make the system more efficient. There have been several judgments from higher courts stating that people’s rights are being violated because the judicial process in Malta takes so long.

Indeed, there are around 1,700 open magisterial cases. Apart from civil and criminal cases, one magistrate in particular has 170 pending cases.

Malta received considerable funds through the EU Recovery and Resilience Facility to digitise the judicial process with the final aim of approaching a “paperless” system.

There are now plans to extend the law courts building to accommodate four new halls and 25 offices. The plans were initially announced by former justice minister Edward Zammit Lewis, whose ministry allocated €5 million to the extension. Tenders for construction are now in place to extend the courthouse.

Another Bill being discussed is that to harmonise the work currently carried out separately by the Occupational Health and Safety Authority (OHSA) and inquiring magistrates, when it comes to investigating serious accidents and fatalities in the workplace.

Currently, the OHSA has the authority to investigate all matters related to occupational safety, including death or injury, but is not involved in magisterial inquiries, which are appointed for every major workplace incident.

Indeed, there are 87 pending inquiries dating back to 2015. With the new Bill, the government aims to streamline the system by involving the OHSA directly in the court investigations.

Government said the Bill was proposed following criticism from the European Commission’s Senior Labour Inspectors Committee regarding Malta’s current system of having magisterial inquiries held separately from OHSA investigations.

In this way, the amendments would ensure that the magisterial inquiry is concluded only after the OHSA’s analysis is taken into consideration, and that the OHSA’s involvement would not change the way that magisterial inquiries are carried out.