Magistrate Peralta is patently right in describing our law courts as a disgrace - and not simply because of the exaggerated delays in dispensing justice. All aspects need to be seriously looked into with a view to transporting them into the 21st century. Even the very independence of the judiciary stays dented by the way judges and magistrates are appointed in the first place.
The whole process of law has remained stuck in pre-WW2 mentality, namely, that the courts are there primarily to accommodate the judiciary and lawyers, not the citizens who in fact foot the whole bill for the courts’ upkeep.
The Labour Party is well advised to include in its forthcoming electoral manifesto the setting-up of a professional public inquiry into the workings of the entire legal system in Malta and Gozo such that, within six months or so, and after giving everyone the chance to suggest improvements, recommendations are put forward for possible implementation inside a further six months: a tall order, but not impossible.
The following are some areas the suggested inquiry (to be composed mainly of ‘lay’ members) could usefully delve into:
1. A compulsory get-together between the lawyers of opposing parties to agree a plan of action (a time-table stretching no more than a few weeks) which would be submitted to the sitting judge/magistrate at the very first sitting such that the number of such sittings be kept to a minimum, allocated time utilised optimally, witnesses never called to attend in vain, lawyers not clashing their appointments and documents required for presentation being available throughout the whole process. This system works well in British courts.
2. Uniformity among the judiciary with regard to defining what is a ‘suitable’ attire to be worn during court sessions. Today this varies as between members of the judiciary. Hopefully, an end to the imposition on men to wear jacket and tie even in hot weather, including before tribunals dealing with traffic misdemeanours (e.g. parking offences).
3. Scrapping requirements from witnesses reminiscent of illiteracy times, e.g. father’s name, occupation, village where born, kissing a crucifix etc.
4. Difficulties encountered when needing to visit the registry offices: obviously, geared to make one use the services of legal procurators even when not needed. Indeed, the very relevancy of legal procurators could be studied.
5. The habit of judges fixing as many as 50 cases for one single morning session, and all timed at 9 am.
6. Unnecessary verbiage often noticed in judgements, perceived as merely to impress lawyers than to give substance to decisions.
It’s about time the situation at the courts features prominently and seriously in a political party’s programme.