New judge Francesco Depasquale calls for more ‘media-savvy’ courts

In his first sitting, Depasquale suggested that the courts should have their own communications office

Judge Francesco Depasquale
Judge Francesco Depasquale

New judge Francesco Depasquale has called on the Maltese courts to be more media savvy during his first court sitting this morning.

Addressing a courtroom packed with family, friends and colleagues, Depasquale said there was a lot to say about the courts and the “continuous attacks” against it and the judiciary.

These attacks, he said, were often “unjust and incorrect” but despite this, this day was one of celebration.

Depasquale noted that he was there to serve and promised to do his “utmost to ensure that citizens feel that justice is being done, and that this is achieved in the most efficient and effective manner, whilst bearing in mind that every citizen is a human being to be treated with respect and loyalty.”

The son of retired Mr. Justice Franco Depasquale, the new judge stressed the need for the Courts to be “media savvy.”

He suggested that a communications office be set up within the law courts and called for a long-term educational campaign on laws, judgments and court operations in general. “Education is the secret to everything and therefore we should make efforts to promote and strengthen it.”

Mr Justice Depasquale, an 8-year veteran of the court of magistrates, with a reputation for dedication and good humour under pressure said that he would be keeping up his efforts to ensure that justice is done within a reasonable time, “despite the great limitations faced by the Courts today.”

He highlighted the enormous workload borne by magistrates, pointing out that they handled 99% of criminal cases. Few knew the stresses of being a magistrate, he said. They work in silence without much fanfare and without expecting any gratitude, sometimes ending up threatened and intimidated in public, Depasquale said.

The new judge, who previously dealt with all the nation’s libel cases, dedicated part of his speech to journalists, particularly those who report from court. In today’s reality which has been altered by social media, we have reachced the absurdity where that said on social media, without any type of verification and possibilly with a misleading and destabilising intention, is being taken as gospel by everyone. This is why journalists, more than ever before, have a vital and essential role in our democracy,” he said, “as an independent and impartial source of truth.”

The need for ethical journalism was even more strongly felt in a world marked by misinformation and lies, the judge said .

He urged journalists to persevere in their work, no matter how “thankless and difficult” it could be.

Friday’s sitting was officially introduced by a speech delivered by Vincent Galea, as vice president of the Chamber of Advocates and former colleague of the new Judge, having both graduated in 1996.

Galea said that Mr Justice Depasquale’s experience as a member of the judiciary was “tried and tested many times over,” praising the new Judge for his impartiality and efficiency when serving as magistrate. Galea also emphasised the vital role of the media in ensuring that the right to inform the public is balanced against the right of fair hearing, stressing in particular the need for court reporters to have a background knowledge of the judicial process.

The role of the media needed to be discussed with all parties concerned, Galea said, arguing that in court cases “one size does not fit all,” calling for increased dialogue with the Chamber.