Courts publish ‘right to be forgotten’ guidelines despite mounting opposition from press

Courts publish guidelines that will regulate the removal or modification of court judgements when requested

The Courts of Malta issued fresh guidelines to regulate the director-general’s discretion over the removal or modification of judgements on the courts’ public database.

According to the new guidelines, the courts DG will decide solely on applications for the removal of court judgements from a public database that has been used by the public and journalists alike for research.

The DG will now be empowered to remove acquittals on court judgements almost immediately after a request is made, when that judgement is not under appeal or connected to other proceedings.

The move will result in countless judgements being wiped off the public website, denying the public information on the nature of court cases and the process of justice.

In the guidelines, the courts’ DG will consider whether the judgement needs to remain on the website “for reasons of public interest, to exercise the right to information or freedom of expression, or for research, historical or scientific purposes.”

It will further consider whether the removal, in whole or in part, of a judgement will have a negative impact on third parties, apart from general considerations of GDPR or human rights decisions by the European courts of justice (ECJ) and human rights (ECHR).

The guidelines offer six “rules of thumb” that ought to be met before approving a removal. Information should only be removed once three years have elapsed from the date of judgement, or if the offender has been sentenced to a fine, the fine must be paid for the sentence to be removed or modified.

In the event that an appeal has been lodged from the judgment, the appeal must first be decided. Only three years after the sentence given in the appeal can the judgement be modified.

If the person concerned is the subject of other proceedings those separate cases must be terminated. In the event of a conviction for a suspended prison sentence, that period must have elapsed before any modifications can take place.

If the person is found not guilty, the sentence will be revoked shortly after the request is made, “except on the grounds of public interest”.

A new legal notice introduced last week has regularised existing practice whereby the director of the law courts is given unfettered power to delete or modify judgements from the courts’ public website.

Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis had said that guidelines would be published so that the right to be forgotten can be exercised with caution.

The Opposition has filed a parliamentary motion asking for the legal notice to be withdrawn after several media organisations and lobby groups, including the Institute for Maltese Journalists, objected to the rules.