Court delays ‘unacceptable’: Compilation of evidence process to be overhauled

Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis admits court delays are 'unacceptable' but says a serious review is underway to overhaul the system

Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis
Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis

The Justice Ministry is looking into a serious revision as to how the compilations of evidence is carried out, to try and reduce the amount of time taken at this stage of the court hearing, justice minister Edward Zammit Lewis yesterday.

He was speaking in Parliament following media backlash over the past week with regards to court delays, after Maltese EU Commissioner Helena Dalli’s son’s drug sentence prompted several calls on social media to fix lengthy court processes. He was caught handing over six ecstasy pills to another man outside a party venue in 2013.

Zammit Lewis acknowledged that court delays are of considerable concern within Malta’s judicial system, but insisted that his ministry has worked hard to resolve some of these issues.

“Justice reform doesn’t happen over social media, and social media doesn’t solve problems that have been endemic for years,” the minister said.

He insisted that a lot had improved since the Labour came to government in 2013.

As an example, he referred to the case of Morgan Onuorah, who had been interrogated in 2010 over alleged involvement in a drug deal. But since he had given a statement to police without having a lawyer present, his statement could not be used as evidence.

Zammit Lewis said that this issue goes back years. In a similar case, a teenager had been interrogated by police in 2012, once again without having a lawyer present, as the right to legal representation during questioning had not yet been introduced in Malta.

“Criminals have been able to walk away from justice freely... there are repercussions when a statement isn’t taken in accordance to the law,” Zammit Lewis said. “This reflects how the Nationalist Party had managed their justice ministry before 2013.”

There is case law from the Strasbourg Court and European Court of Justice, he said, on how a statement should be taken, and how a person needs legal representatives.

Zammit Lewis said it is was also unacceptable for an inquiry to take five years to be concluded, but once again insisted that there is no room for knee-jerk reactions when trying to solve this issue.

“We need to listen to everyone’s advice and make sure we’re doing things well and with caution,” he said. “And I believe that we have already done a lot, with reforms in the appointment and removal of judges, and in the way the Chief Justice is appointed.”