Swifter judgments in shake-up of judiciary
Judges are set to retire at 68
Long-overdue reforms are set to be introduced in Malta’s much-criticised courts in return for a better financial package for judges and magistrates.
A new appointment system comes into effect on October 1, whereby all cases will be appointed and heard by a specific time and date, while afternoon sittings will be introduced.
There will also be obligatory ongoing training for all members of the judiciary, The Sunday Times has learnt. Sources said the ‘reform package’ agreement was struck just a few days ago, following months of negotiations led by Justice Minister Chris Said and judiciary representatives.
Initial talks were started by Dr Said’s predecessor Carm Mifsud Bonnici. The package includes a €12,000 rise to all the members of the judiciary, staggered over three years.
It also raises their retirement age from the current 65 years to 68.
The package, which the sources say has the blessing of the Opposition, also strengthens the functions of the Commission for the Administration of Justice, currently led by the President of Malta, to make the judiciary more accountable.
One of its main functions is to act as a watchdog on the judiciary’s actions and behaviour, but its powers are so limited that sitting members have ignored its instructions on various occasions. Although the government had already told the judiciary it would introduce more accountability, amendments to the law regulating the Commission must first be agreed with the Opposition, the sources said.
Judges and magistrates had been calling for an increase in their remuneration package for years and had started unofficially boycotting official celebrations.
Judges receive an annual remuneration, which includes salary plus allowances, of more than €50,000 and magistrates more than €44,000, apart from other perks, including a chauffer-driven car for their family’s use.
However, they have always claimed this was low in view of their responsibilities.
Delays in Malta’s court rooms and the fact that cases are only heard in the morning have frustrated thousands. Currently, no appointment system is used, leading to massive delays, confusion, time-wasting and clashes in lawyers’ and clients’ schedules.
Court sources revealed that during the negotiations the government was adamant this would be a two-way agreement and that if the judiciary failed to introduce the agreed reforms there will be no financial increase.
“More than an agreement, this is a conditional deal. Basically the executive (government) is giving judges and magistrates an extra €12,000 over three years in return for a better service to the public through longer and more efficient hours of work,” the sources said.
Last year, the Chamber of Advocates president, Reuben Balzan, said the chamber agreed with better financial remuneration for the judiciary so long as it was accompanied by “improved performance and accountability”.
Gross financial remuneration in Reform Package