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‘I am not a doctor, so why call myself one?’

Malta’s law courts are one of the few places in the world where lawyers refer to themselves as ‘doctor’. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Malta’s law courts are one of the few places in the world where lawyers refer to themselves as ‘doctor’. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Only in Malta and a few other countries, such as Portugal do lawyers enjoy the title of doctor, according to the dean of the Faculty of Laws, Kevin Aquilina.

Prof. Aquilina was commenting in the wake of students’ concerns over the restructuring of the law course that will remove the LLD title from the basic academic certification required to practise law.

Many students feared the change would also mean removing the title of doctor, which law students benefited from despite not pursuing PhD-level studies.

The government stepped in to reassure students that they could still call themselves ‘Dr’ but the development rekindled the debate about the dubious practice.

Asked about this, Prof. Aquilina said the title formed part of the course’s “historical baggage”.

“When the law course was founded it was only offered at the University of Malta. At the time, the University used to give a doctorate in these subjects, so, basically, it is the old subjects that get this,” he explained.

The matter seems to be very close to the hearts of current graduates.

One student took to his social media account to lambast the possibility of not being given the title.

Ironically, the student described the move as something that happened “only in Malta”.

Earlier this week, Justice Parliamentary Secretary Owen Bonnici assured students they would retain the coveted prefix despite not studying at doctorate level. Dr Bonnici said the decision was prompted by dentists, who also styled themselves as doctors despite not having a PhD.

While some dentists have also been known to use the title, some contacted by Times of Malta said they did not.

“How silly. I’m not a doctor, so why would I call myself one?” dentist Carl Grech asked.

Prof. Aquilina said this was also the case among Maltese lawyers who left the country.

“When lawyers and judges are overseas, they do not usually use the term doctor but instead opt for mister,” he said, adding that even the Attorney General was not given the title when involved in cases by the European Court of Human Rights.

Prof. Aquilina said that under the new system, students would undertake a four-year undergraduate course followed by a one-year Masters course.

At this point, he said, students would choose whether to be notaries or lawyers, meaning there would no longer be a difference between the two professions in terms of academic standing.

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