On Monday 2 December 2013 the Justice Reform Commission headed by retired Judge Giovanni Bonello presented its final report on improving the administration of justice to the Parliamentary Secretary for Justice, Dr Owen Bonnici.
The 443-page report (click here to download) includes 43 recommendations and no less than 449 measures, which aim to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the justice system in Malta, and increase the public’s trust in the system as a result. It concludes the work of the commission, which also includes retired Judge Philip Sciberras, the Dean of the University of Malta’s Faculty of Laws Professor Kevin Aquilina and lawyer Dr Ramona Frendo.
“Our journey ends here. Now your work begins,” Dr Bonello told Dr Bonnici as he presented the report.
The commission had already presented two reports on reforming the justice system this year. Following the publication of the first, Chief Justice Silvio Camilleri was critical of the lack of consultation.
But the plan had been to engage in consultations following the publication of the preliminary reports, and according to Dr Bonello, these discussions with the judiciary and other stakeholders have helped bring the commission’s proposals closer to striking a “near-impossible” balance between the independence of the judicial system and the need to hold it accountable.
The retired judge noted that the justice system’s problems were complex, and that complex solutions were required, and observed that the measures varied greatly in terms of scope and difficulty of implementation. While some required constitutional amendments, others involved relatively simple changes in procedures.
On his part, Dr Bonnici said that the government would certainly adopt the vast majority of the commission’s measures, and that many will be implemented in the near future, particularly those which sought to address the excessive length of court proceedings. But he added that certain measures – particularly those involving constitutional changes – deserved further discussion.
The parliamentary secretary said that at this point, reforming the justice system was not a choice but a necessity.
When asked, he said that contrary to what one may think, he was not finding resistance from the judiciary in his regular meetings with the bench, but rather a desire to bring about reform.
Dr Bonnici also referred to a recent EU survey on justice in the EU, and noted that while Malta performed better than its peers in various categories, it ranked rather poorly on trust. Just 45% of Maltese surveyed said that they had faith in their country’s justice system, compared to 85% of Finns.
He concluded by stating that ensuring that the majority had faith in the justice system was a justifiable aim of the planned reforms.