Call for applications for four new magistrates to be issued soon, Justice Minister says

Justice Minister Jonathan Attard says new magistrates will increase efficiency of the justice system

Court (File photo)
Court (File photo)

Government will be issuing a call for applications aimed at selecting new magistrates.

Speaking at a press conference in Valletta this morning, Justice Minister Jonathan Attard said that the five selected candidates will be joining the current cohort together with the three new judges announced on Wednesday.

Four of the new magistrates will be tasked with implementing recently announced reforms to the system of magisterial inquiries.

Attard pointed out that over 1,700 magisterial inquiries were currently pending, some stretching back 40 years.

“The situation must be addressed,” he said. “I have seen victims, or families of victims, waiting for justice… I want to send a clear message that I am not indifferent to this.”

The minister said that the government had intervened to create a “more sensible approach towards victims and their families.”

The changes will increase the efficiency of the justice system, Attard said. 

The second phase of reforms to the justice system will involve public consultation about the proposed legislation. Issues such as the appointment of court experts and the timeframes in which they are expected to conclude their tasks, will be tackled, as will confidentiality and ethics, said the minister, adding that €17 million had been spent on court experts over the past two years.

The ministry will also be engaging more support staff to assist the inquiring magistrates in their duties.

As the beginning of the new forensic year looms, Attard said that the Government was in continuous dialogue with the Chief Justice, whose recommendations in last year’s speech had been transformed into tangible measures.

Attard said he was pleased to see the “absolute majority” of the issues raised last year had since been addressed.

“There is a lot yet to be done,” Attard told reporters, as he pledged to address the problems.

Works were underway with the help of the Court Services Agency on the construction of a new courtroom for jury trials, and new offices for judges had been built, he said. The ministry was also looking into finding a site for a Commercial Court.

The abolition of the renvoi procedure was first suggested 12 years ago by lawyer Franco Debono, at the time an MP.

He had argued the same magistrate wears two hats - part-time investigating with the police and then part-time judging cases.

“Having specialised full-time investigative magistrates would mean better investigations too, and they may initiate their own investigations, subject however to adequate safeguards against frivolous probes,” Debono had told MaltaToday.

Reform of compilation of evidence procedure ‘going strong’

Parliament was in the process of discussing several proposals and draft laws, Attard said, adding that the consultation on reforming the procedure for compilations of evidence in criminal cases was going strong and will be presented to parliament soon.

A number of submissions for properties in Gozo for the replacement of the current court facilities there was also ongoing, he said.

Taking questions from reporters, the minister was asked whether he thought two magistrates were enough to handle approximately 2,000 domestic violence cases. Attard said that the number of sittings had already increased and that “high profile cases were being treated with urgency.”

"If we feel the need to… there will be a request and we will consider it," Attard said, adding that it was the Chief Justice who assigns judges and magistrates to courts. “If he deems [more magistrates and judges] necessary he will request it.”

Fit and proper test impasse ‘unacceptable’

Asked about the situation where law graduates were still waiting for their warrants, due to the impasse between the minister and the Commission for the Administration of Justice on the issue of invasive personal questions put to warrant candidates, Attard said he had offered resources to the committee concerned last month in a bid to resolve the issue. 

“I have no words for those waiting for their warrants. The situation is unacceptable. I wrote to the committee in August and gave them all the resources possible,” he said. “I sincerely worry for the over 100 professionals waiting to be allowed to practise their profession.”