Justice is best in the morning
Lately much publicity has been given to the fact that the members of the judiciary are to receive a more attractive financial package. The intention behind this reform would surely be to attract top lawyers to the Bench.
This has been the fruit of ongoing discussions between the Government and the judiciary.
On their part, magistrates and judges have promised better efficiency and accountability.
As shadow minister for justice, I have been kept abreast by the minister on these developments. As yet, however, I am not in a position to state what the Labour Party’s stand will be as the matter has to be remitted to my Parliamentary Group.
This notwithstanding, there has been one aspect of the reform on which I have already had occasion to express my view.
It is being suggested that our courts should also start holding sittings in the afternoons. The minister seems to think that such an arrangement would speed up the administration of justice.
Like the Chamber of Advocates, however, I entertain severe reservations in this respect.
For many the administration of justice signifies court hearings. This cannot be further from the truth. The oral hearings before judges and magistrates are only part of the judicial process.
The judiciary have to find the time to study their cases in order to be able to deliver their learned judgments. The only time they can do so is when they are in the serenity of their homes.
Some judgments can be delivered instantaneously due to the simplicity of the issues.
Others however, due to their complexity, require study and deep reflection. If our judges were made to work from nine to five they would have no time left to write their judgments.
Similarly, a practising lawyer doesn’t merely attend court. Like members of the judiciary, he or she too must find the time to prepare briefs. Furthermore, lawyers must have the time to make themselves available for their clients.
If lawyers were to spend all day in court, this would surely upset their schedules a great deal and their performance and efficiency would suffer to the detriment of their clients.
There are ways of increasing the efficiency of our courts without having to go to extremes.
It is no secret that a few members of the judiciary opt to limit their weekly sittings while others tend to start late.
In this day and age, judges no longer have the comfort of being able to hold sittings randomly.
The new arrangement should lay down that judges must commit themselves, as much as possible, to holding sittings on a daily basis. This notwithstanding, there would be occasional sittings, agreed by consensus, that would be held in the afternoons. But this should be the exception and not the rule.
There must also be a strong commitment to holding sittings by appointment whenever possible.
This is no easy task, due to the substantial number of pending cases and due to the fact that in Malta lawyers have to handle a plethora of briefs and cases every day.
Were the authorities to go ahead and enforce what is being proposed, I feel that we would suffer a backlash.
Far from a quick fix, such an arrangement could actually delay justice since it would inadvertently be conducive towards more judges falling behind on their judgments.
Statistics show that part of the problem is the unacceptable time being taken by certain members of the judiciary to pronounce their judgments.
This could be excusable to a certain point since the drafting of judgments is time-consuming and this is why it is perhaps time to encourage a system of ex tempore judgments.
Dr Herrera is Labour spokesman for justice.