by Dr Carlos Bugeja
UPDATE 1: 18 March 2020, Legal Notice 84 of 2020
UPDATE 2: 23 March 2020, Legal Notice 97 of 2020
UPDATE 3: 10 April 2020, Legal Notice 141 of 2020 – Read here for the latest update.
On 13 March 2020, the Maltese Department of Information published Legal Notice 61 of 2020, namely “Epidemics and Infectious Disease (Suspension of Legal and Judicial Times) Order, 2020”. This was further amended on 18 March 2020 by means of Legal Notice 84 of 2020.
The first Legal Notice was published concurrently with Legal Notice 65 of 2020, by virtue of which the Superintendent of Public Health ordered the closure of all courts. This Legal Notice regulating the closure of the courts was further amended by means of Legal Notice 97 of 2020, which substituted the definition of ‘courts’, speaking instead about ‘designated court’, meaning:
“any of the courts of justice, that is the superior courts and the inferior courts including appellate courts irrespective of their competence or jurisdiction, and includes also any tribunal established by law which operates from the building of the Courts of Justice, and any boards, commissions, committees or other entities which operate from the building of the Courts of Justice before which any proceedings are heard or procedures undertaken which are subject to legal, judicial or administrative time limits for filing any claims, defences or other acts:
Provided that the tribunals, boards, commissions, committees or other entities which operate from the building of the Courts of Justice shall include the: (a) Industrial Tribunal; (b) Employment Commission;(c) Committee of Inquiry (Deprivation of Citizenship);(d Partition of Inheritances Tribunal; and (e) Information and Data Protection Appeals Tribunal.”
In our Law, there is an abundance of instances whereby a party is obliged to act (for instance, to file an act) within a specific time-frame. One example is the twenty-days period within which one is allowed to file a reply to a lawsuit filed against him, to avoid falling into the trap of ‘contumacia’.
It is stated in Legal Notice 61 of 2020 that the running of any legal and judicial times and of any other time limits including peremptory periods applicable to proceedings or other procedures before the designated courts (as later defined in Legal Notice 97 of 2020, that is those operating from the building in Valletta) are as of 16 March 2020 suspended. The suspension shall last until seven days following the lifting of this order.
If is further stated that if the last day of any legal or judicial time or other time limit expires during the time when an order provided for in this regulation is in force, the running of the times shall be suspended until seven (7) days after the day when the Superintendent repeals the order for the closure of any court by notice in the Gazette.
The court may request to hear sittings of an urgent nature and those which are in the public interest.
Legal Notice 84 of 2020, published on 18 March 2020, clarified that the suspension shall also apply to prescription in criminal and civil matters.
Legal Notice 97 of 2020, published on 23 March 2020, created a distinction between those courts operating from the building of the Court of Justice, and others. It states that any legal, judicial or administrative time-limit for the filing of any acts before the court following the conclusion of any proceedings before any Tribunal, board, commission, committee or other entity which does not operate from the building of the Courts of Justice, shall be suspended for a period of twenty (20) days from the lifting of the repeal of this order by the Superintendent.
This seems to refer to appeals to be made from decisions of Boards and commissions operating outside the building of the Courts of Justice, such as the Public Contracts Review Board (PCRB) and the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal (EPRT).
It is then further stated, in what seems to be the most important part of these amendments, that the suspension of the time limits as in force prior to the coming into force of the Closure of the Courts of Justice (Amendment) Order, 2020 (presumably, this very Legal Notice, 97 of 2020) in that it concerns tribunals, boards, commissions, committees and other entities which are not operating in the building of the Courts of Justice, shall remain in force for five (5) days from the coming into force of this amending order.
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