The two most influential court officials made their speeches to mark the beginning of the court calendar, calling for more investment in human resources and addressing threats to professional secrecy in the legal profession, among other issues. .
The Chief Justice calls for more court staff, less media sensationalism
In his speech marking the opening of the court after the summer break, Chief Justice Mark Chetcuti appealed to the government to address the shortage in court staff.
Addressing the President of Malta, George Vella, the Prime Minister Robert Abela, the Leader of the Opposition Bernard Grech and the Minister of Justice Edward Zammit Louis who were present, together with the members of the Chetcuti stressed the need for long-term planning along with immediate reforms.
The Chief Justice warned that the increase in cases was putting pressure on the judiciary, as well as on infrastructure – with only 30 courtrooms to accommodate 47 members of the judiciary, space is a premium. He pointed out that only one courtroom was available for juries and criminal appeals.
He appealed to the media to avoid sensationalism. He said the voice of the media was essential and should be free in a democracy, even if it is sometimes harsh. His interventions should be made at the right time and never with the intention of putting pressure on or affecting the independence of the judiciary.
He recalled that it was imperative for a judge to cut himself off from his personal opinion and prejudice in order to rule in accordance with justice. Not just in the courtroom but also in his writings, “without extra words that only draw criticism.” The opinion of a judge should be heard only in the judgments and provisions he makes, said the Chief Justice.
Professional secrecy must be safeguarded – Bar Association
The President of the Bar Association, lawyer Louis Degabriele said that the Chamber will issue a practice note regarding professional secrecy later today. This note will contain guidance on how lawyers should react in cases where their professional secrecy is threatened by public authorities in the execution of an inquiry or investigation.
“Honestly, I never thought I would have to uphold such a fundamental principle for the legal profession in the year 2021,” the lawyer remarked. “The Chamber cannot remain silent when a lawyer is placed in a situation where it is necessary to break the law to comply with an order from the investigating authority. The law is clear and must be given full effect, clearly and unequivocally. ”
This professional secrecy is not a privilege of the profession, but a crucial right, Degabriele said. It is fundamentally necessary to allow people to give their lawyer an accurate picture of the situation, without fear and is protected under the European Convention on Human Rights, he said.
Searches in the office of a professional may violate this secrecy unless there are adequate safeguards and the European Courts have decided that special procedures should be in place for such eventualities.
“We must remove the idea that legal privilege and professional secrecy are some means to encourage or protect criminal activity. The fundamental principle remains that if the investigating authorities want a lawyer’s client’s communications, for evidence of a criminal intent, then the first thing they should do is to seize the document or evidence from a lawyer. the client himself and do not use the lawyer for this. ”
Degabriele also reiterated his call for better regulation of the legal profession, saying it was time for a new regulatory framework that would bring the profession into the 21st century. He called for coordination between the legislature and the profession in this aspect.
He closed his address with a declaration of solidarity with lawyers working in the Gozo courts, who are boycotting the hearings due to ongoing administrative shortcomings, and said that he hoped that the situation would return to normal.