Lengthy court proceedings remain a serious concern in Malta, a European commission rule of law report has said.
As of last year, the commission started drawing up an annual rule of law health check for all EU states.
The report on Malta says the average length of money-laundering cases remained particularly long, taking over 1,350 days in 2019, even though the length of time was on a downward trend.
Litigious civil and commercial cases at first instance were labelled as “very long” with an average time of 465 days, which was an upward trend in 2019.
The duration of these proceedings in appeal was also very long at 875 days, the commission said.
The report highlighted how a relatively low number of judges and magistrates might affect the efficiency of the justice system, with the number of judges per capita being the lowest in the EU.
It found that while investigative and prosecution bodies have improved their capacity to deal with corruption cases, as shown by an increase in the number of cases opened, investigations continued to be “lengthy” depending on their complexity, and a track record of convictions in high-level cases remains to be established.
In the report, the commission said the transfer of more prosecution responsibilities to the attorney general should be done “as soon as possible”, including for smaller offences.
Although the independence of the Permanent Commission Against Corruption has been strengthened, clear results of recent reforms are still missing, the report says.
The anti-corruption body has no in-house investigators nor data analysts, its resources remain limited, and concerns regarding its capacity to conduct impactful inquiries therefore persist, the report continued.
On the media front, the rule of law report says journalists still face obstacles when requesting access to information held by public authorities as well as in the exercise of their profession more generally.
Amendments to Malta’s Broadcasting Act have not introduced any changes which would enhance the broadcasting authority’s effective independence, the commission said.
Reacting to the report, the government said the commission welcomed the reforms implemented to strengthen the independence of the justice system, particularly the reform of the system of judicial appointments and that of judicial discipline.
According to the report, the perception of judicial independence has “notably improved”, the government emphasised.
“Furthermore, the report highlights how investigative and prosecution bodies have improved their capacity to deal with cases related to corruption and that even further reforms have been carried out to enhance checks and balances, thus widening the judicial review on decisions that need to be taken, including those by the attorney general,” the government said.
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