Justice Minister waiting for committee to revise guidelines demanding graduates declare mental health problems

A committee responsible for carrying out a 'fit and proper' test on prospective lawyers has been told by the Justice Minister to revise guidelines demanding graduates declare medical or psychological conditions before admission to the bar

Justice Minister Jonathan Attard
Justice Minister Jonathan Attard

A committee involved in the warranting process of lawyers was told to revise guidelines demanding graduates declare medical or psychological conditions before they can obtain their warrant.

Justice Minister Jonathan Attard said in parliament on Monday the committee had presented a set of guidelines that would form the basis of a ‘fit and proper’ test that graduates must fulfill before being admitted to the bar. The committee falls under the purview of the Commission for the Administration of Justice, a constitutional body.

“When the guidelines were presented to me, I had my reservations,” Attard told parliament. He explained that he wrote back to the committee with a number of observations and aspects that the ministry felt needed to be revisited.

The ball is still in the committee’s court. Attard said the ministry is still waiting for a revised version of the amendments to be sent back.

MaltaToday revealed that the test is at the heart of a stand-off between the committee and justice minister, with the latter objecting to the more invasive questions on the test.

“We don’t want to create a situation where, with the information we ask, we brand certain people or create discomfort and prevent people from entering the legal profession,” Attard said.

The proposed test, seen by this newspaper, contains a section on health issues in which lawyers are expected to declare current and past physical or mental health problems spanning a 10-year period.

Another probing question is whether they have a drug, alcohol or gambling addiction, or whether they had one in the previous 10 years, irrespective of whether they have recovered.

Although the guidelines upon which the test is based say that applicants with mental, physical or other health conditions or disabilities are encouraged to enter legal practice, they insist on full disclosure and urge applicants to seek “medical or psychological” help before seeking admission to the profession.

“Willingness to seek professional help counts in one’s favour,” the guidelines suggest. They also ask applicants who want to show that their condition or disability is appropriately managed, to produce a medical certificate confirming this.

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