Malta still laggard on length of civil cases despite EU scoreboard improvements

Justice minister says EU scoreboard on 2021 court improvements shows significant improvements at a time of reduced activity inside law courts

A mixed result on the European Commission’s annual justice scoreboard was welcomed by the Maltese government, as a cautious improvement on its ongoing judicial reforms.

The scoreboard of 2023 presents an overview of indicators on the efficiency, quality, and independence of justice systems across EU member states for the year 2021, the year in which Malta was transitioning out of the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Despite decreases in lengthy cases over previous years, Malta was still among the member states with the longest periods in resolving litigious civil and commercial cases at first instance – fourth after after Greece, Italy and Croatia.

No data was available to the scoreboard as to the average length of court cases on matters of bribery, as well as on the powers of corruption-prevention bodies.

And it was evident from the data that there had been a slight decrease in the “very good” and “fairly good” perception of the public in the independence of the courts and judges.

On the contrary there was a higher “very confident” and “fairly confident” view of businesses that te Maltese law courts could ensure investment protection.

Justice minister Jonathan Attard said that in 2021 Malta registered a significant 15% decrease in time for civil and commercial resolutions, and cut down by half the length of proceedings of money laundering cases when compared to 2019, despite the fact that the law courts were not operating at full capacity due to the transitional year from COVID-19 measures.

“Even though the number of resolved cases increased over the period of one year, the increase in the incoming caseload overshadowed the efforts being put forward by our judiciary to expedite cases,” Attard said, adding that since then 10 more judicial members have been appointed to address the incoming caseload.

 The increased size of the judiciary has also increased payroll and costs, with Malta now the country with the highest increase in total government expenditure in the law courts per inhabitant between 2020 and 2021.

Malta ranked topmost amongst EU member states in the perception amongst companies of the effectiveness of the investment protection. “That’s an aspect which is at heart of the relationship between a healthy and strong justice system and the ability of the country to attract direct foreign investment. This is the ultimate test to the strength of the rule of law in Malta,” Attard said.

The minister said the government was working on landmark reforms, including the recently launched compilation of evidence process reform, a specialised section for magisterial inquiries, family court reform, and the €10 million digital justice reform. “On the latter, the scoreboard already shows that Malta is well-placed in providing digital solutions within its justice system and there are other solutions which are in the pipeline to be implemented.”

“This report shows that Malta is starting to bear the fruits of the landmark and courageous reforms that the government is implementing, and that the government will continue to invest in the infrastructure and human resources to achieve the best possible results and ensure that justice is not only done but manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be served in a reasonable time.”