The Court Services Agency is blocking information on the appointment and payment of court experts, after taking a full eight months to reply to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, in breach of the law.
The Agency turned down the request, even though the same information was provided to the media in 2018 when the agency was still a government department.
Last June, The Shift filed an FOI request asking for a list of payments made to court experts during 2019 and 2020, including the name of the expert, the member of the judiciary who appointed the expert and the total annual payments made to every expert.
The official request was filed after Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis refused to reply to questions on a reform that never happened.
The agency said that since the FOI request was not for a ‘document’ but for a ‘list’, it had to ‘collate’ the requested information, and this, according to the agency, is inadmissible.
The Shift has already submitted a request for reconsideration. It reminded the agency that similar information to that requested had already been made available to the media in previous years.
The Shift also reminded the agency that it has a 10-day time window in which to reply until the issue is taken before the Data Protection Commissioner.
The issue of the appointment of court experts by members of the judiciary has been a controversial one for years as the system lacks transparency and is susceptible to abuse.
Magistrates have been given free rein to appoint court experts, while payments of tens of thousands of euro are made with little to no accountability.
In 2016, the Chamber of Advocates had called for an overhaul of the system, calling it a ‘racket’. The justice minister at the time, Owen Bonnici, had promised radical reform, but nothing has changed so far.
According to the latest statistics available, in 2020, the government paid almost €10 million in fees to court experts. Some of these experts earn over €100,000 a year from these assignments.