Court agency says it is has no documents on court experts’ payments

€26 million was paid to court experts in the last three years but the Court Agency turned down The Shift's FOI request citing lack of documentation.

 

Information on how members of the judiciary select court experts, how much they are paid from the public purse – and for what – is to remain a ‘state secret’, despite declarations to the contrary by Justice Minister Jonathan Attard.

Last month, Attard told parliament that during the last three years, the State’s bill for court experts skyrocketed to a staggering €26 million. Yet no information was ever published about these court experts, who assign them, or how much they are paid for their work.

Various administrations have criticised the decades-old system. Meanwhile, the Chamber of Advocates has repeatedly called for transparency, describing the current situation as a “racket” based mostly on acquaintance and friendship between members of the judiciary and the experts themselves.

Despite public statements by various justice ministers from different administrations that the system needed to be changed and that an element of accountability and transparency must be introduced, this has never been implemented.

The Shift has encountered several barriers when investigating the system. The latest episode involved a declaration by the Court Service Agency that it does not have the necessary information about what is being paid to experts.

The Shift filed a Freedom of Information (FOI) request in June 2021, asking the Court Service Agency for a list of court experts whom members of the judiciary had tasked with work in 2019 and 2020. The request also asked for information on how much the experts were paid and who assigned their tasks.

The agency turned down the request, declaring it did not have the requested information.

In a formal complaint to the Information and Data Protection Commissioner (IDPC), The Shift argued that it was not possible that the government agency responsible for issuing payments to these court experts did not possess such basic information.

Three years later, and after a long legal process that followed all the steps outlined in the Freedom of Information Act, this information is still being kept secret.

In a recent decision a few weeks ago, the Information and Data Protection Commissioner criticised the agency for breaching the Freedom of Information Act when failing to reply to The Shift’s requests within the established timeframes.

However, the Commissioner decided that once the agency declared it did not have the necessary information, it could not be forced to supply the requested information.

How the system works

Court experts are individuals tasked by members of the judiciary, primarily magistrates, to assist in gathering evidence or conducting criminal proceedings.

The magistrate chooses the expert. Although the justice ministry compiles lists of experts, judiciary members are not obliged to follow them and can appoint whomever they wish.

When the assigned task is completed, the expert sends an invoice, approved by the magistrate who ordered the report, to the Court Service Agency. The government agency then issues the payment.

In 2013, the Justice Reform Commission, headed by Judge Giovanni Bonello, criticised the ‘obsolete’ expert system practised in court and recommended a total overhaul, but this has yet to occur.

                           

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KLAUS
KLAUS
17 days ago

What a pigsty 🐖 of a Minister of Justice Jonathan Attard.
Seems neither fit nor able to handle anything.

He should be fired 🤑 immediately.

Francis Said
Francis Said
17 days ago

The Minister responsible for Justice is either totally incompetent or has been ordered to let sleeping dogs sleep.
The repeated mantra, yes we will see to it but no action or decision taken.

Last edited 17 days ago by Francis Said
Joseph Tabone Adami
Joseph Tabone Adami
17 days ago

The scandal of the decade: 26 million euros in taxpayers money, paid during a period of three years by the Courts’ accounting system, cannot be accounted for!!

For goodness sake, heads must roll – the higher the better.

Cikku
Cikku
17 days ago

However, the Commissioner decided that once the agency declared it did not have the necessary information, it could not be forced to supply the requested information.”

Does this mean that if the FIAU and/or the FCID come knocking on my door for information, i can avoid giving such information by stating that i dont have it?

i dont see why Joe Citizen is punished for not adhering with record keeping rules on what is effectively private, whilst the government institutions are not accountable for PUBLIC MONEY. Isnt this theft which is subject to criminal charges?

Can maybe Ms Michele Buontempo (CEO MFSA), Mr. Alfred Zammit (Director FIAU) and/or Mr. Angelo Gafa (Police Com) give us their respective office’s position on this matter?

saviour mamo
saviour mamo
17 days ago

This lack of transparency undermines the accountability of the judiciary.

Jane
Jane
16 days ago
Reply to  saviour mamo

Yes it does. But Malta is in the EU and the Council of Europe can impose penalties. The President of the EU Parliament is Maltese so if she wants to be re-elected she should expose this blatant lack of transparency.

Antonio Ghisleri
Antonio Ghisleri
16 days ago

What a shambles! No transparency and accountability whatsoever! This is symptomatic of the whole administration — no wonder that GRECO had such strong words directed towards the current administration.

KLAUS
KLAUS
16 days ago

Let‘ face it:
This PL is leaded by
TRAITOR OF THE WORKING-CLASS.

Chris
Chris
14 days ago
Reply to  KLAUS

Are you sure you don’t mean:

PL GOVERNMENT IS A CRIMINAL ORGANISATION

And that certain elements of PN are always standing right there beside in waiting for the occasional nefarious windfalls?

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