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Maltese legislation under British rule

Raymond Mangion:
Constitutions and Legislation in Malta: 1914-1964, Volume 1: 1914-1933 (xli + 299) and Volume 2: 1933-1964 (xli + 296), Russell Square
Publishing Limited, 2016.

Raymond Mangion, head of the Department of Legal History and Methodology at the University of Malta’s Faculty of Laws, has published a two-volume opus on the story of the Constitutions and Laws of Malta that were enacted during the period 1914 to 1964 of British rule.

His monograph was published by the prestigious Russell Square Publishing Ltd of London, UK. He has, by virtue of this great scholarly work, filled in a lacuna in the research and study of Maltese law, Maltese history and above all, Maltese legal history, that has been felt for years on end.

John Finnis, Professor of Law and Legal Philosophy Emeritus at the University of Oxford for almost 50 years – considered as one of the leading academic lawyers and philosophers of law in the history of humankind – has hailed Mangion’s work as “a pioneering and welcome historical and legal investigation”.

Mangion’s two volumes, spread over more than 700 pages, discuss the Maltese Constitutions and ordinary legislation enacted during the British period when Malta was still under Crown colony rule or under self-government. Each chapter covers a specific span of time related to major constitutional and legislative events which took place during that period and constituted a hallmark in the general development of Maltese society.

The author’s two volumes discuss over 350 separate legislative enactments in the form of Acts of Parliament and Ordinances that were enacted during the last 50 years of de jure British rule, that is, from 1914-1964, although against the background of the first 100 years of British rule in the fortress colony, 1814-1914. They also mention the story of legislation that failed yet made history and effectively brought about changes in Maltese society.

His landmark publication is fully sourced and documented, and, of course, beautifully illustrated. It is thoroughly based on archival research that takes years to analyse. In fact, the author went through a host of attorney general and lieutenant governor files, now deposited in the National Archives, to track down the motivations, origins as well as shaping of legislative enactments. The list of legislative themes that are treated in the two volumes is unbounded and practically touches every subject that was debated and approved by the Maltese legislature.

Fills in a void in Maltese legal literature

Each volume has its own table of legislation (Maltese and English), table of cases (Maltese and English), appendices, bibliog­raphy and extensive index. Both volumes contain photographic illustrations of the main Maltese protagonists at work within the politico-legal, religious-ecclesiastical and socio-economic arena who left their indelible mark on the Maltese legal period of the time. No doubt, the perspective is not merely institutional but also from the standpoint of the person in the street.

The long, turbulent constitutional and legislative story at play is divided into four parts, which are, in turn, sub-divided into 14 chapters (including a prologue and an epilogue). Part I covers the period 1814 to 1914; Part II focuses on the first self-government of 1921-1933; Part III delves into the reinstatement of Crown colony rule between 1933 and 1947, and Part IV scrutinises the constitutions and laws enacted during the second spate of self-government of 1947-1964. The author takes a thematic approach within a chronological framework.

The epilogue is indeed interesting. It evaluates the forces of influence on law-making both inside and outside the legislature, whether a unicameral, namely the Council of Government, or bicameral (Legislative Assembly and Senate). The author makes it abundantly clear who were the entities or individuals that influenced in the main the law-making process. He puts into historical context the legislative process, and the reader is continuously told who are the main protagonists within and outside the legislature and what were the responses to policies and decisions that were ultimately given a legislative profile.

As the author himself puts it, his work “makes two fundamental propositions: that the legislative outcome of the second responsible self-government in Malta (1947-1958) was built on top of the legislative results of the first responsible self-government (1921-1930 and 1932-1933), and that the Roman Catholic Church and the military services were the two most important influences on legislative enactments”.

The two volumes clearly illustrate the influence of English or colonial legislation on Maltese law that is hitherto present and encountered today notwithstanding that more than 50 years have elapsed since the period 1914-1964. Interesting enough, they indicate a number of enactments that were autochthonous and legislative prototypes in the history of the British Empire and the Commonwealth in general.

Needless to say, the University’s Faculty of Laws welcomes this timely monograph, not only because it fills in a void in Maltese legal literature but because it sheds light on the historical evolution of the Maltese legal system.

It will certainly serve as an excellent textbook for law students researching the myriad constitutions and laws enacted and promulgated during this 50-year period that are still on the statute book till today, or which, even though repealed since then, still serve as a source of interpretation for present-day legislation.

At last, we have in writing the story of Maltese legislation under British rule which was missing among the books on the many other aspects of Malta’s history.

Kevin Aquilina is dean of the Faculty of Laws at the University of Malta.

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