Rule of Law: Justice

Strengthening Access to Justice for Human Rights Protection

In January 2021 aditus began working on the project Strengthening Access to Justice for Improved Human Rights Protection which has as its objective improving access to justice for individuals wishing to strengthen their human rights protection in those instances when they feel that they have been violated. This project is supported by the Active Citizens Fund (ACF) in Malta established under the specific Programme Area for Civil Society part of the EEA Financial Mechanism 2014-2021.

In several of our earlier projects, alone and also with several other NGO colleagues, we identified institutional obstacles to effective to justice for human rights protection. These obstacles have also been identified by several esteemed reports and research, including by the Venice Commission, the European Parliament, the European Commission and in the Vanni Bonello report on Malta’s justice system.

Whilst Malta has a relatively strong human rights regime that seeks to protect a long list of fundamental human rights, the practical protection offered to persons whose rights have been violated or might be violated is rather weak. Within the ambit of this project, we are looking at key publications and reports and the recommendations contained within them.

Recent Changes in the Maltese system

We cannot discuss rule of law within the justice system without mentioning the recent changes carried out further to the Venice Commission report on Malta. The reform process in carrying out these changes and the lackof consultation has already been discussed in another blogpost plublished last year. The Venice Commission highlighted that the Constitution allowed for the Prime Minister to retain the majority of the power, while other important actors (including the President, Parliament, the Cabinet of Ministers, the Judiciary, the Ombudsman etc) were not granted sufficient power to allow for checks and balances necessary for separation of powers.

The 6 legislative changes carried out by the Maltese government in 2020 and subect to another Venice Commission opinion were the following:

  • Reforms relating to the judicial review of decisions not to prosecute;
  • Amendments to laws regulating the Office of the Ombudsman;
  • Constitutional amendments relating to the appointment of the judiciary;
  • Constitutional amendments relating to the appointment of the President;
  • Constitutional and other amendments relating to the removal from office of the judiciary; and
  • Reforms relating to the appointments to the Permanent Commission Against Corruption.

Outstanding issues

The length of proceedings remains a problem in both civil and criminal cases. The length of proceedings is amongst the longest in the EU. These raise serious issues both for the rights of the general public in securing their rights, but also more worryingly for defendants and victims of crime. Malta also has the lowest number of judges per capita.

In 2018, the Maltese annual budget allocated to legal aid was reported to be €304,137, whilst in comparison that of public prosecution €2,656,005. Access to legal aid remains limited, specifically in civil cases where legal aid is only granted to persons who have (i) a probabilis causa litigandi and (ii) an income which does not not exceed the national minimum wage and total assets did not exceed €6,988.12.

Several Acts of Parliament grant individual Ministers the authority to appoint members of quasi-judicial bodies, committees, commissions and similar entities, these having the mandate to decide on appeals or applications presented to them by any person. Although the basic principles of natural justice apply to all deciding boards and quasi-judicial tribunals, there is no conformity or uniformity on the composition
of such bodies, on their basic rules of procedure and on the remedies available after the decision is taken.

The Maltese Courts have through their jurisprudence enshrined the principle that Constitutional Court judgements, including when the Constitutional Court declares that a specific law violates the Constitution or the European Convention, do not have erga omnes application. This principle enshrined by our Constitutional Courts goes against the principle of Article 6 of the Constitution, which proclaims the supremacy of the Constitution and that any law to the extent of its inconsistency with the Constitution, is null and void.

There is still a dire need for improvements in the use of IT tools in local Courts. E-filings are not available, except for filings in the Small Claims Tribunal. The public can access the acts of cases in relation to civil proceedings, but not criminal. Although we understand issues of data protection for criminal cases, we are not aware of any possibility of legal professionals being able to view the acts of criminal cases online.

These are just some of the systematic issues that this project will aim at addressing in the two years of its implementation.

For any information or queries email [email protected]


09/12/2019



Venice Commission: lack of public consultation akin to denying citizens their democratic entitlement.

Reform Process

Throughout this year we will be looking at Venice Commission Opinion CDL-AD(2020)019 adopted in October 2020 on the acts and bills that sought to implement the proposals for legislative changes which were the subject of Opinion CDL-AD(2020)006 adopted in June 2020. In this post we examine the Venice Commission’s reaction to the procedure used by the Government in adopting the first 6 Acts which are subject of the Opinion. .

Backdrop: Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination

On the 8th October 2020 the Venice Commission adopted an Opinion on the ten acts and bills implementing the legislative proposals put forward by the Maltese government. This is the 4th Opinion adopted by the Commission on Malta since 2018. The process relating to the Malta’s constitutional amendments, separation of powers and independence of the judiciary kicked off in October 2018 by a request of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) to the Venice Commission.

The request to the Venice Commission from the PACE originated in a proposal by the Rapporteur of the report on “Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination and the rule of law, in Malta and beyond: ensuring that the whole truth emerges”. The Venice Commission had noted then that the request for should be understood against this backdrop, although its remit is exclusively limited to the examination of Malta’s constitutional amendments.

Reaction: A hidden & rushed parliamentary process

Interestingly, it can be noted that the Government transmitted the 10 bills to the Venice Commission as restricted documents which could not be circulated to the public without prior authorisation. The Minister requested an opinion by way of urgency, to which the Venice Commission replied by stating that it would not prepare an opinion by way of urgency but that it would be finalised at the beginning of October 2020.

The Venice Commission also recalled that it had insisted that the Maltese authorities should have a meaningful exchange with all stakeholders on the basis of texts that should be public. It strongly called:

… for wide consultations and a structured dialogue with civil society, parliamentary parties, academia, the media and other institutions, in order to open a free and unhampered debate of the current and future reforms, including for constitutional revision, to make them holistic. The process of the reforms should be transparent and open to public scrutiny not least through the media.” – paragraph 99 Opinion CDL-AD(2020)006.

The lack of publicity of the texts up until the last minute meant that bills, that will have profound and long-term impact on Maltese society, were not scruntised by civil society, parliamentary parties, academia, the media and other institutions. This was done against the repeated recommendations of the Venice Commission that called for wide consultations with society as a whole.

Cutting short any meaningful dialogue

In spite of this, on the 29th July 2020, the Maltese Parliament went ahead and approved 6 out of the 10 Bills it had previously presented to the Venice Commission. In reaction to this, the Opinion noted with regret that the Bills were adopted before the Opinion could be finalised and without any structured dialogue with all stakeholders as recommended.

The Venice Commission stressed that it was “critical of the procedure followed by the Maltese Government, which it regrets” and that the rushed and opaque procedures essentially cut short any meaning dialogue with Maltese society. It noted that the 6 wide-ranging bills were rushed through Parliament in just 29 days between the first reading and adoption. Furthermore, it noted that 4 bills were made public after 16 days from their presentation at first reading in Parliament.

Unanimity in the Maltese Parliament is an ambivalent matter

In scathing words, the Venice Commission noted that confining discourse to the political parties in parliament, without meaningful public consultation, was akin to denying citizens their democratic entitlement to have a say in the shaping of the constitutional order of Malta. The text of the Opinion goes so far as to say that although unanimity may be seen as a sign of broad consensus, it could also be interpreted as:

proving the closedness of the political system and the fact that common vested interests bind the majority and the opposition together.” paragraph 16 – Opinion CDL-AD(2020)019

Finally, the Venice Commission repeatedly states that the procedures adopted by the Maltese authorities in carrying out these reforms go against the literal and overall thrust of their previous opinions.


In a furture article we will look at the substantive comments to 6 acts adopted by Parliament relating to:

  • Reforms relating to the judicial review of decisions not to prosecute;
  • Amendments to laws regulating the Office of the Ombudsman;
  • Constitutional amendments relating to the appointment of the judiciary;
  • Constitutional amendments relating to the appointment of the President;
  • Constitutional and other amendments relating to the removal from office of the judiciary; and
  • Reforms relating to the appointments to the Permanent Commission Against Corruption.

In May 2020, aditus had the opportunity to discuss its views on the proposed changes, together with other local civil society actors, with the rapporteurs of the Venice Commission. This was followed by a publication of its feedback on Malta’s proposed legislative changes. We had already then noted our frustration at the lack of broad civil society involvement in the formulating any of the intended changes put forward by the Government.


Just published: our Annual Report for our activities in 2019

We’ve just published the Annual Report covering our activities for 2019. This report is a mandatory document for our reporting to the Commissioner for Voluntary Organisations as also a confirmation of our committment to transparency and accountability.

The report provides information on the activities, initiatives and engagements we worked on throughout the year. It also gives readers an insight into the major achievements and challenges we faced in the year. Importantly, it provides information on the human rights landscape of 2019 and our position within it.

The report is freely available on our Publications page, here.

This is my introduction to the Annual Report. We’re more than happy to provide more information on the Report’s content and our activities…just get in touch with us.


2019 will go down in history as one of Malta’s most tumultuous years. On-going investigations into the brutal assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia continued to unveil shocking stories of corruption at Malta’s highest political levels, including the Office of the Prime Minister and other Ministries, as well as in Malta’s most prominent and influential business circles. The impact on the nation was unprecedented, with upset crowds – led by civil society organisations – taking to the streets for several days with loud calls for justice, accountability and resignations. At the end of the year, the disgraced Prime Minister resigned as also the disgraced Minister for Tourism and the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff.

The scandals are nowhere near resolved and justice for Daphne and for the criminal activities she was in the process of revealing is far from being secured. In a recent opinion piece, I underlined that, as long as Joseph Muscat and Konrad Mizzi remain members of Parliament, Malta will remain besieged by corruption and criminal activity, unable to restore democracy.

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