Malta’s Chamber of Advocates is calling on the country’s courts to partially go online amid a COVID-19 lockdown and concerns over legal delays.
Video conferencing, they say, can be easily implemented with Maltese law already allowing for witnesses to give their testimony via video.
The Chamber explained that the proposal will be easily applied to the Courts of Appeal, where witness testimony is no longer necessary. For civil appeals, lawyers will be able to add to their original pleadings via writing through email. They will also be able to do this orally through a video-conference with the judge and the other respective lawyers.
The Chamber has already been approached by the Hon. Justice Giannino Caruana Demajo with proposals for such a system to take place. When it comes to delivering the judgement, the law will need to be changed to allow the courts to read out the sentences through video.
It would be different when it comes to criminal appeals, given that the accused will need to be present for each sitting. Proposals are currently being made to address this. However, it’s been suggested that the case could take place remotely.
If the accused is already in custody then arrangements will be made within the prison to allow video conferencing. However, there are some issues with lawyers who feel they should be in the presence of their clients during judgements and to communicate confidentially.
The Chamber believes a compromise can be found.
The courts of first instance is slightly more complex, since the court requires to hear evidence. Cases pending a judgment will be able to continue through video conference, the Chamber said. The appeal period will be extended by 30 days.
In cases which are still pending, affidavits or remote testimony are recommended to replace court testimony. Court experts will need to brief lawyers before the sitting. If it is impossible, then the sitting will need to wait till measures are lifted.
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Malta’s courts and other similar tribunals have been shut down since 16th March, a little over a week after the first case had hit the island. Persons who commit crimes are still be charged but their cases are being delayed.
There are several major cases on hold beyond the usual flood of lawsuits within the courts.
These include cases surrounding the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, the murder of Lassana Cisse, and several other fatal domestic violence cases. Revelations of a police extra duty racket are also yet to be addressed in the courts. Meanwhile, the compilation of evidence against the four men who were charged with the death of Miriam Pace will also be delayed.