Rule of law in Malta: EC sees improvement in judicial affairs, but media freedom still restricted

Reading Time: 2 minutes

In a country report on the rule of law in Malta, the European Commission noted that the reforms of 2020, in particular the reform of the system of judicial appointments and of judicial discipline, have contributed to strengthening the independence of the Maltese justice system. Steps have been taken to depoliticise the appointment of the Chief Justice, while certain aspects of this procedure require further attention. The transfer of prosecutions from the police to the Attorney General is progressing.

The Commission noted that whereas this transfer needs time, it is important that it also covers less serious offences. There are ongoing discussions to enhance the independence of specialised tribunals. Serious challenges remain as regards the efficiency of the justice system, in particular the length of court proceedings, the impact of the low number of judges and the digitalisation of justice.

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 continue to be lengthy depending on their complexity and a track record of convictions in high-level cases remains to be established. The reforms concerning the appointment of the Police Commissioner and of the Commissioners of the Permanent Commission against Corruption, as well as the reorganised cooperation between the Police and the Attorney General, are recent and results are yet to be seen.

Concerning the rules on integrity for public officials, including members of Parliament and ministers, further changes are envisaged. Specific guidance has been put in place to mitigate the risks of corruption in public procurement
during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Media freedom still restricted

The report found that 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. In the light of the ownership by the two main political parties of their own television and radio stations, a constitutional case has been
lodged challenging the relevant section of the Maltese Broadcasting Act and the media regulator’s application of that provision.