02 May 2020
Following the announcement yesterday by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Health that the registry of the Courts will be open on Monday 4th May, the Chamber early this morning held discussions with the Minister for Justice and the Courts Agency with a view to exploring a mutually satisfactory manner in which the re-opening of the registry can be conducted.
The Chamber expressed the view that the re-opening of the registry of the courts should be conducted in an orderly, managed and gradual manner that will ensure full respect of the directives of public health authorities in the interest of the well-being of all employees and all users of the services at the registry on the one hand; but that will allow the functioning of the registry without any unnecessary alarm, on the other and ultimately, with the aim of working towards a full re-opening of all registry services within a short period of time.
A number of principles were agreed with the competent authorities and which should in due course be integrated into a number of legal notices. However, later this afternoon the Chamber notes that two legal notices were published, namely Legal Notice 176 and legal Notice 177 of 2020, that make amendments to previous legal notices, dealing with the closure of the courts and the suspension of legal times.
By virtue of those legal notices, the order of closure of the courts has been partially revoked, to allow the registry of the courts to re-open on Monday. The suspension of legal times remains in force. The Chamber was hoping that a more orderly, gradual and managed approach to the re-opening of the registry would be taken, rather than a simple lifting of the prohibition under the Closure of the Courts of Justice Order (Subsidiary Legislation 465.19, which incorporates Legal Notices 65; 66 and 97 of 2020).
The principles put forward by the Chamber and which were agreed to in principle earlier today can be summarised as follows:
- The Closure of Courts of Justice Order will be partially revoked limitedly to the registry of the courts, both civil and criminal.
- The Closure of the Courts Order will not be revoked in so far as the Courts themselves are concerned, accordingly court sittings and processes will only be conducted in cases of (i) urgency; and (ii) where the public interest prevails.
- As of Monday 4th May 2020, the registry will accordingly have a twenty-day time limit within which it will come into full operation. During this 20-day period the Registries of the Courts will function in a phased and managed manner.
- As of Monday 4th May 2020, it will no longer be necessary to open the registry for normal filings. (See below).
- The registry of the Criminal Courts will be fully functional as of the 4th May 2020, except for administering affidavits and oaths to the general public. This service will be re-introduced at the registry of the Criminal Courts as from the 18th May 2020.
- The registry of the Civil Courts will be functional as of the 4th May, but will adopt a phased filing of acts over the course of three (3) weeks as follows:
a. Week 1 (4th May to 8th May 2020) only filing of the following acts:
- All acts relating to court cases which are pending, whether appointed for hearing or waiting for and appointment for hearing. These include subpoenas, notes of submissions, replies to applications (sworn or otherwise, etc.).
- Applications for appeals.
- Letters and Notes for the commencement of the mediation process in the Family Court.
- All acts to be filed in the Courts of Voluntary jurisdiction.
b. Week 2 (11th May to 15th May 2020): the filing of the following acts only:
- All types of warrants, whether precautionary or executive;
- Counter-warrants; and
- Any application requesting the revocation of a warrant.
c. Week 3 (18th May to 22nd May 2020): the filing of the following:
- All types of Judicial Letters;
- Protests and Counter-Protests;
- Schedules of deposits; and
- All Acts not mentioned in any of Week 1 or 2.
7. All acts filed in the registry of the Courts during the course of this 20-day period, independently of when filed, shall be deemed to have been filed on the 25th of May 2020.
8. The Registry is expected to be in full operation as of the 25th May 2020 and all Acts and the filing of sworn applications for new judicial procedures may be filed.
All legal and judicial times suspended under the provisions of LN 141 of 2020 would remain suspended until further notice. This is a matter which will need to be reviewed depending on how social distancing measures will evolve over the coming weeks, particularly with respect to vulnerable persons. The issue here is that whilst new cases can be instituted, a person who may be a vulnerable person may not be allowed enough interaction with his lawyer to be able to file proper defences within the required time, if the suspension on legal times is lifted after the 25th May. The Chamber shall keep the matter under review and will hopefully have greater visibility of the recommendations of health authorities closer to the 25th May to take a final view on this matter.
The Chamber also agreed earlier today, that over the course of the re-opening of the registries, the Court Agency would be implementing measures to ensure that all health directives are properly complied with, these would include:
- Social distancing measures, so that a limited number of persons will be allowed in the Registry of the court at the same time;
- Anyone entering the registry of the courts will be required to wear appropriate masks or visors;
- Anyone entering the court building will be screened for temperature reading and shall be required to use hand sanitizers upon entry;
- Lawyers and legal procurators are encouraged to avoid taking their clients to the registry for purposes of filing and thus avoiding the unnecessary aggregation of people in a limited space and allowing for a more flowing process;
- Other measures may also be put in place in line with directives of the public health authorities.
The Chamber believes that its proposals, and the matters agreed upon with the competent authorities, over the course of today are designed to create and establish more legal certainty and to ensure a smooth transition to the re-opening of the registry within the confines of measures intended to prevent, contain and guard against the spread of infectious disease and it will continue to co-operate with the competent authorities to ensure that there is a gradual and managed approach to the re-opening of the registry. The legal notices issued this evening to deal with the matter however do not properly and adequately provide the legal certainty or the managed and phased approach that the Chamber was aspiring to.
Earlier this evening, the Chamber has been advised that the Ministry of Justice shall continue its discussions with the Chamber in the coming days to evaluate how and where more legal certainty can be achieved.