Editorial | Effective justice matters

But beyond the workings of our courts and justice system, Malta must ensure that all mechanisms underpinning the rule of law work well


A jurisdiction’s attraction for foreign investment depends on multiple factors, including how robust and effective its justice system is.

Any company that does not have a high-risk appetite will seek a jurisdiction that has a clear rules-based system and a justice system that can deliver effective results.

Apart from the basic tenets of justice – the right to a fair hearing and impartial members of the judiciary – businesses must also be assured that judicial processes and judgments are delivered in a timely manner.

Wide-ranging reforms have been enacted over the past couple of years, including the appointment process of members of the judiciary that has been removed from the hands of the executive. But despite these important changes, the judicial process remains slow.

In the best-case scenario court delays are the result of incompetence while in the worst-case scenario they are the result of sinister behaviour aimed at obstructing justice.

It is not surprising that MEPs from the European Parliament’s LIBE committee expressed concern on this aspect of justice in Malta.

Justice delayed is justice denied, and that is what Sophie In’t Veld, the chairperson of the rule of law working group in the committee, practically said yesterday at the end of a three-day fact-finding mission to assess progress on the rule of law in Malta.

She described Malta’s judicial process as “excruciatingly slow”. She was referring to a lack of visible investigation and prosecution, highlighting that in four and a half years since the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia no justice has been served.

Only one man out of the several who have been charged has been sentenced after admitting to his involvement. The other cases remain ongoing, including that of alleged mastermind Yorgen Fenech who has not yet been convicted. And the prospect of the pending cases going to trial anytime soon remains remote.

Other high-profile cases, involving charges of money laundering, also remain log-jammed in a court system that appears to be purposely designed to encourage cases to drag on.

But it is not just these high-profile cases that are stuck in limbo. There are many other minor cases that keep dragging on in court, rendering the justice system ineffective, even when justice is eventually meted out.

This does not bode well for a healthy business environment. It is already a challenge to ensure a level playing field exists in the market, especially when dealing with government tenders, let alone expecting justice to be delivered in an expedient manner.

This is why it is important that all players in the equation get together to enact changes that ensure justice is delivered fairly and in a timely manner. Efficiency is as important as fairness.

Only this week we witnessed a case, whereby a victim of rape asked the court to stop proceedings against her rapist, a former partner, because she did not want to relive the trauma after having received therapy for the past five years. The case happened in 2017 and the trial was coming up shortly – five years later. Who could blame her for this? The outcome is a potential rapist will never face justice because time played out in his favour.

And this is not just a matter for politicians to sort out. The judiciary needs to wake up to new realities. In a fast-paced world they have to embrace technology and push the boundaries of comfort so that cases are heard as quickly as possible, and judgment delivered expediently.

But beyond the workings of our courts and justice system, Malta must ensure that all mechanisms underpinning the rule of law work well.

Robust laws, well-resourced structures and more importantly a mentality that sees effective enforcement as a natural extension of their function and not an inconvenience, are key necessities.

Effective justice matters for business as it does for the rest of society.

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