National Media Report on the representation in the media of suspects and accused persons

Project Partners: Hungarian Helsinki Committee (Lead Partner), aditus foundation, Fair Trials Europe, Human Rights House Zagreb, Mérték, Rights International Spain, Vienna University. Supported by: This project is funded by the European Union’s Justice Programme (2014 – 2020)

According to EU Directive (EU) 2016/343 on the strengthening of certain aspects of the presumption of innocence and of the right to be present at the trial in criminal proceeding proceedings, Member States must ensure that suspects and accused persons are not presented as being guilty, in court or in public through the use of measures of physical restraint such as handcuffs, glass boxes, cages and leg irons.

aditus, together with the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and partners (Fair Trials Europe, Human Rights House Zagreb, Mérték, Rights International Spain and the Vienna University), have been working together to increase knowledge and sensitivity to the presumption of innocence among professionals and the public. The Importance of Appearances: How Suspects and Accused Persons are presented in the Courtroom, in Public and in the Media project page can be accessed on this link.

Over the past year the aditus team, coordinated by our Assistant Director Carla Camilleri, has been carrying out a media review in order to collect and analyse data on the media representation of suspects and accused persons at all stages of the arrest and subsequent legal proceedings in Malta. This process included a sampling phase spanning a number of months of all news reporting relating to arrests of suspects or criminal court proceedings in printed newspapers, online portals and TV broadcasts in both the Maltese and English language press. The ultimate purpose of the research was to identify good and bad practice regarding the presumption of innocence in various sectors of the media. Stories were selected and coded by all project partners in their respective countries in accordance with the guidelines and procedures developed by the Vienna University team.

The results of the Maltese media review were collated into a National Media Report, which can be read in full here. The Report gives an overview of the laws, legal guidelines and legal framework relating to the media and criminal justice. It also gives a contextual outline of the media landscape in Malta, focusing on printed media and their websites, online news portals and also television broadcasts.

In the course of the research, the main legal provisions regulating the portrayal of suspects in the media that were identified are the following:

  • Requirements as to Standards and Practice applicable to News Bulletins and Current Affairs: persons accused of criminal matters should not be projected as if they are already found guilty and the principle of presumption of innocence must be fully respected. Trial by the media before any court judgement is delivered must be avoided at all times and care should be taken to avoid broadcasting repetitive footage that might prejudice the accused’s right to a fair trial.
  • Juvenile Court Act: newspaper reports, or sound or television broadcasts are prohibited from revealing the name, address or school, or include any particulars that may lead to the identification, of any child or young person under the age of 16 in criminal proceedings. The publication of any picture in any newspaper or on television as being or including a picture of any child or young person in any criminal proceedings, before the Juvenile Court and also the Criminal Court, is also prohibited.
  • Code of Journalistic Ethics: all reports of crimes and court proceedings should be strictly factual and a clear distinction should be made and explained between the facts and the expression of opinion. The naming of minors in court reporting is prohibited.

The findings of the media review of the reports and broadcasts from the selected television programmes, newspapers and online websites resulted a number of trends that may negatively influence the perception of suspects or accused persons as guilty. In this regard, a worrying trend was noted in relation to the use of images and film of the suspect on entering the Court building. Several incidences were recorded in which suspects were led by the Police through a pedestrian area and into the Court buildings through the front doors, as opposed to the back entrance. In this way reporters and journalists would publish or broadcast photographs or footage of suspects being led into Court handcuffed and escorted by a number of police officers. The negative portrayal of suspects or accused persons could potentially influence a person’s perception of their guilt and any future trial.

In one extreme example, a suspect was charged in Court the day after he was arrested, wearing a white forensic suit with his hands handcuffed behind his back. The suspect was made to walk in a busy pedestrian area, escorted by 3 police officers and enter the Court through the front doors as opposed to through the back entrance

Suspect being escorted to Court through a pedestrian street handcuffed and in white forensic suit

The research also highlighted that reporters and journalists from all media types consistently made explicit reference to the ethnicity and nationality of the alleged perpetrators. Frequently, the headlines would use nationality as the descriptor, for example “A Serb”, “Two Syrians” or “Russian with Maltese citizenship“, whilst no further descriptors are used for Maltese suspects, for example “double murder suspect still to be questioned”.

The use of visual representation which shows police officers, handcuffs and otherwise threatening representation of the defendants is also very common to newspapers, online portals and television broadcasters. However, it was also noted that only a few examples in which explicit reference to previous convictions were mentioned, whilst no explicit reference to guilt of the defendant were found in the sampled reports.

In the coming months an in-depth report on the legal framework regulating the use of restraining measures on suspects and accused persons, which also includes practical experiences of stakeholders in the field, will be published.

For more information contact our project contact point, Carla (carlacamilleri@aditus.org.mt). You can also Subscribe to our News and Updates to be kept updated on this and all other projects and initiatives.

Measures of Restraints


Training materials on access to justice for migrant children

The FAIR project (Fostering Access to justice for Immigrant children’s Rights) was a two-year long project, which aimed at strengthening access to justice for migrant children in the EU. Migrant children in the EU face violations of their human rights every day. Lack of access to their families, to information, guardians and legal assistance, lack of access to housing or education, unlawful detention – are few examples of what the children suffer.

The results of the project are a number of practical training modules and learning tools to support lawyers in defending migrant children’s rights:

The materials include the following training modules:

0. Guiding principles and definitions,

I. Access to fair procedures including the right to be heard and to participate in proceedings,

II. Access to justice in detention,

III. Access to justice for economic, social and cultural rights,

IV. Access to justice in the protection of their right to private and family life,

V. Redress through international human rights bodies and mechanisms,

VI. Practical handbook for lawyers when representing a child.

These materials have been used in national trainings for lawyers organised by the ICJ-EI in Spain, Italy, Greece, Malta, Bulgaria, Ireland and Germany and include also practical training tools, such as case studies and warm-up questionnaires to guide possible future trainings.

Timeframe:

1 March 2016 – 1 March 2018

Project Partners:

International Commission of Jurists – European Institutions (Lead Partner), Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) (EL), aditus foundation (MT), Fundacion Raices (ES), Bundesfachverband Unbegleitete Minderjährige Flüchtlinge e.V. (B-UMF) (DE), Legal Clinic for Immigrant and Refugees (LCIR) (BG), Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI) (IR), Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna (SSSA).

 

EU flag_yellow_high

Co-funded by the Rights, Equality and Citizenship (REC) Programme of the European Union.

Co-funded by the Rights, Equality and Citizenship (REC) Programme of the European Union and the Open Society Institute Budapest Foundation, and implemented in cooperation with the AIRE Center, Child Rights Connect, and the Associazione per gli Studi Giuridici sull’Immigrazione (ASGI) (Italy).


LIBE & PANA Mission Report, Rule of Law, Malta

The European Parliament’s Mission Report Following the ad-hoc Delegation to Malta (30 November – 1 December, 2017) was finally published yesterday. The Report outlines the findings of the visit of an ad-hoc Delegation to Malta composed of 8 European Parliamentarians drawn from the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) and the Committee of Inquiry into Money Laundering, Tax Avoidance and Tax Evasion (PANA). The Report contains a summary of the meetings that the Delegation held with various government representatives, public authorities and civil society, and it also presents a number of recommendations to be implemented at European level and at national level here in Malta.

During the meeting held with civil society representatives aditus reiterated that problems relating to the rule of law in Malta are systematic and stem from the concentration of powers granted to the Prime Minister by the Constitution. Neil, our Director, noted that these concerns existed prior to the election of the current government and to the assassination of Ms. Caruana Galizia. The current system permits the politicisation of national authorities, by allowing the appointment of party affiliates to judicial positions, to monitoring and deciding bodies and to key positions within the administration. Other issues raised during this particular meeting can be found on pages 12 and 13 of the Monitoring Report.

aditus had previously raised these concerns and had called on the Maltese government and Parliament to commit to a governance approach that is built on transparency, inclusivity and accountability. The crisis Malta is facing today can be seen as the direct result of successive governments retaining and strengthening the power-structures, obscuring the lines separating the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government. aditus had also called on civil society to avoid complacency and to expect more and better from any Government of the day and from Parliament, to require from them the most impeccable conduct and, where this fails, to insist on their immediate resignation or removal. However, primarily we recommended the implementation of a true Constitutional reform that will rebuild the nation from its grass roots, with strong and independent democratic institutions that are capable of effectively ensuring the rule of law and respect for fundamental human rights. [Full press releases: The nation deserves better, and more, from Government and Parliament – Joint NGO Press ReleaseJoint NGO letter to the Prime Minister on the recent appointment of Dr. Herrera as Justice Commissioner]. 

In a similar vein, the Platform of Human Rights Organisations in Malta (PHROM) in its 2016 Annual Human Rights Report Protecting Human Rights, Curbing the Rule of Power, flagged “issues of bad governance, lack of transparency and accountability as the most serious concern for the general state of human rights in Malta.” The 31 members of PHROM, which include aditus foundation, cited the Panama Papers scandal, the corruption allegations involving members of the Government and the then upcoming elections as the most worrying obstacles for the fulfilment of human rights in Malta. Finally, PHROM called on the Government to commit governance approach that puts people and the protection of their rights at the centre of their policies, rather than safeguarding the privileges of a few.

In concluding, the Delegation’s Monitoring Report noted that “MEPs expressed serious concerns about the unclear separation of powers, which has been the source for the perceived lack of independence of the judiciary and the police, the weak implementation of anti-money laundering legislation, the serious problems deriving from the ‘investments for citizenship programme’, and the mentions of Maltese politically exposed persons in the Panama Papers and their continuing presence in government.” In tackling the problems identified with the functioning of the rule of law, the Delegation recommended that: 

  • Work is needed to ensure stronger checks and balances in the Maltese legislative framework to better separate powers and to limit possible interference of the Prime Minister in the judiciary and the media;
  • Reform the Attorney General functions, to decouple the role of advisory to the government from the role of prosecution;
  • Reform the Judiciary, namely on the basis of recommendations made in 2013, in order to reinforce the separation of powers and the independence of the Judiciary;
  • The Police Commissioner should no longer be appointed by the Prime Minister but by an appropriate independent body. Similarly, the veto power of the Prime Minister should no longer exist regarding the nomination of the Maltese Chief Justice;
  • An investigation is needed over the alleged influence of elections through increased hirings in the public sector, issuance of construction permits and regularisations of irregular constructions, as well as pay increases and promotions in the military. 

(for the full list of recommendations refer to pages 29-31 of the Monitoring Report)

We call on the Government and Parliament for immediate action by taking these recommendations on board and by kick-starting the process of a proper reform that would ensure good governance, free from corruption and abuse of power and the  functioning of the rule of law, which would guarantee justice, personal security and the protection of fundamental rights for all.


Understanding the Right of Access to Legal Assistance in Malta: Access to a Lawyer, Legal Aid and Pro Bono

The Battenberg Suite, Osborne Hotel, Valletta – 13th January, 2017

aditus foundation, together with The Critical Institute, is organising a seminar which will bring together local and foreign experts, whose contributions will cast light on Maltese human rights obligations to provide free legal assistance for the protection of fundamental rights, the Maltese legal aid system, its shortcomings and possible developments and on the benefits of a strong pro bono culture.

Seminar Programme:

10h00   Opening remarks: Presentation of the programme and the experts

10h30   Access to legal aid as an essential precondition for the exercise of the right to a fair trial: the European roadmap  – Tzeni Varfi, Legal and Policy Officer, Fair Trials, Brussels

11h15   Q&A

11h30   Coffee break

12h00   The implementation of the right of access to a lawyer: European Court of Human Rights and national case-law Jodie Blackstock, Legal Director, Justice, London

12h45   Q&A

13h00   Lunch

14h30   The Maltese legal aid system: current legislation and possible reforms Ann Spiteri, Lawyer – LEAP (Legal Expert Advisory Panel) Expert, Malta

15h00   The pro bono legal assistance: a commitment to an effective and accessible legal aid system – Marieanne McKeown, Director of Global Pro Bono, PILnet, The Global Network for Public Interest Law

15h30   Reacting panel and discussion: the gaps in the Maltese Legal Aid system and pro bono assistance Ann Spiteri and Marieanne McKeown

16h00   Coffee break

16h30   Round up of the day’s discussion and closing remarks

17h00   End of the seminar

 

The seminar is free of charge and lunch will be provided to all participants. Places are limited, in order to book, please email: alessiacicatiello@aditus.org.mt and carlacamilleri@aditus.org.mt 

 

This project has been funded through the Voluntary Organisations Project Scheme managed by the Malta Council for the Voluntary Sector on behalf of the Ministry for Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs and Civil Liberties.

                  

 


Malta & the EU Justice Scoreboard 2016

The EU Justice Scoreboard – 2016, released by the European Commission provides data on the quality, independence and efficiency of civil, commercial and administrative justice systems in all EU Member States. The scoreboard exists as a part of an open dialogue with Member States which aims to help achieve more effective justice systems. 2016 sees the release of the fourth edition of the EU Justice Scoreboard, which contains new quality indicators on factors such as general standards, training and legal aid.

Overall, Malta scores relatively low on indicators relating to efficiency due to lengthy proceedings, although this has improved over the last 5 years. Regarding the quality of its justice system, Malta generally performs extremely poorly when assessed on the accessibility of justice, especially regarding legal aid and media communication. However, there are some promising scores linked to the use of ICT in the judicial system as a means of improving accessibility and efficiency. A major weakness identified for Malta relates to the resources allocated to justice, with legal aid and training for judges receiving some of the lowest scores in the EU.

The standards which exist in Malta by which to measure justice are fairly comprehensive, with only a few gaps. Gender diversity in the judicial system is flagged as an issue for Malta in both a lack of standards on gender diversity and in a lack of female judges. The independence of the judiciary in Malta is only perceived to be good by around half of the population, but has a far more positive perception among businesses.

Efficiency of the Justice System

Timeliness is essential to the smooth running of a judicial system, and is used by the Scoreboard as an indicator of efficiency. Malta has improved since 2010, when, with an estimated time of over 800 days to resolve a case in court, length of proceedings were ranked second longest in the EU after Portugal. The most recent figures from 2014 show the average number of days to resolve a case in court down to just below 600, which, although an improvement, remains by far one of the longest periods in the EU.

Another indicator of efficiency is the number of cases pending, which expresses the number of cases which remain to be dealt with at the end of a period. Malta scored relatively well on this indicator, with around 2 cases pending per 100 inhabitants throughout 2010-2014, placing it at a similar level to the 12 best performing Member States.

Quality of the Justice System

The quality of justice systems is measured in the Scoreboard by focusing on: the accessibility of justice for citizens and businesses; adequate material and human resources; putting in place assessment tools; and using quality standards.

As an indicator of accessibility, the Scoreboard rates the availability of information online about the judicial system for the general public, with the highest score being 5/5, awarded to 17 Member States. Malta, among the lowest scoring Member States is awarded a score of 3/5, with gaps in information available online relating to starting a proceeding and the costs of proceedings.

Another indicator of accessibility to justice is legal aid, for which Malta scores the 3rd lowest out of the 27 Member States represented. According to the Scoreboard, the amount of annual public budget allocated to legal aid in Malta between 2010 and 2014 is barely above €0 per inhabitant, with the highest figure in the EU found in The Netherlands, at just under €30 per inhabitant.

The use of ICT systems in courts is also viewed as an indicator of accessibility of justice, as well as a way to reduce delays and costs. With the facilities for electronic submissions by lawyers available in just 25% of courts, Malta is among a third of Member States which have electronic submissions available in some courts. Malta fared far better on the indicators of submissions of small claims online, electronic communications in court and the availability of judgments online– achieving the highest possible score for all three.

However, in terms of media communications as an indication of accessibility to justice, Malta was awarded the lowest possible score of 1/7, due to a lack of any allocated official in charge of explaining judicial decisions to the media – unlike 14 other Member States which have such an official in all instances and therefore scored 7/7.

The Scoreboard presents resources as necessary to the effective functioning and quality of the justice system. The annual budget spent on law courts in Malta between 2010-2014 places it in the middle of the spectrum relative to other Member States. However, in terms of human resources, the amount spent on judges is the 3rd lowest of the 27 Member States, and Malta is one of just 4 Member States which does not have any compulsory training for judges.

The nature of training available for judges in Malta is significantly more limited than in most Member States, with a complete absence of continuous training on judicial ethics, court management, IT skills or press communication.

The Scoreboard also illustrates the proportion of female judges, which in Malta is around 45 % in the first instance, just over 10% in the second instance, and nearly 30% in the Supreme Court, which overall makes it one of the worst performing Member State in terms of gender balance.

The Scoreboard highlights that tools to assess the functioning of courts are essential for improving the quality of justice systems and may take the form of monitoring and evaluation of court activities through ICT and surveys. Malta received a score of 4/7 on monitoring and evaluation activities, which cover: an annual report; time frames; postponed cases; and performance and quality indicators, but lack a regular evaluation system and specialised staff.

On the use of ICT for court activity statistics, Malta achieved the highest possible score along with just over half of the Member States. Malta is one of 11 Member States which is reported not to have carried out any surveys in 2014.

Standards can drive up the quality of justice systems, and in 2015 the European Commission began working with contact persons within the Member States on the standards relating the functioning of justice system. Whilst Malta has standards set within most of the defined areas, there are some gaps in standards, most notably in the active monitoring of case progress and the workload of the courts.

Independence of the Judiciary

The final area reported in the Scoreboard is judicial independence, which is a requirement stemming from the right to an effective remedy enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU. In addition to information about perceived judicial independence, the Scoreboard shows how justice systems are organised to protect judicial independence in certain types of situation where independence could be at risk.

The perception of the independence of the judiciary by the public is represented, and in Malta is perceived to be ‘very good’ or ‘fairly good’ by nearly half of the general public. Around 20% of the general public perceive the level of independence to be ‘fairly bad’, 10% as ‘very bad’ and the remaining 20% do not know. Among businesses, 65% believe the independence of the judiciary to be ‘fairly good’, 5% ‘very good’ and nearly 30% perceive it as ‘fairly bad’ or ‘very bad’.

The Scoreboard also presents a range of indicators of structural independence, including safeguards of the transfer of judges without their consent. Malta has one of the highest number of possible situations in which a judge can be removed, however, unlike around one third of other Member States, no such removals took place in 2014. Malta scores well on the allocation of cases in order to ensure impartiality, with all cases allocated at random or according to a set criteria.

Research carried out by Lara Farrell

For more information contact Carla Camilleri

Further reading:

European Commission Justice Scoreboard results welcomed, Times of Malta, 11 April, 2016

Malta best in Europe in terms of gender balance among judiciary in 2014 – Minister Bonnici, The Malta Independent, 11 April, 2016

Length of court proceedings down by 28% in one year, MaltaToday, 11 April, 2016

Quantitative Data figures from the 2016 EU Justice Scoreboard, European Commission, April 2016

Study on the functioning of judicial systems in the EU Member States, European Commission, 16 February, 2015

Final Report of the Commission for the Holistic Reform of the Justice System, 30 November, 2013