Environmental crime cases in court shelved due to removal of presiding magistrate

November 28, 2023 8:49 am

In two separate letters sent over the past weeks (3rd & 17th November) to Chief Justice Dr Mark Chetcuti, BirdLife Malta has requested the immediate attention of the Chief Justice on the urgent need for the replacement of the magistrate handling environmental crime cases.

Environmental crime cases in court have been shelved indefinitely, now for more than two months, following the removal of Magistrate Dr Elaine Mercieca Rizzo from the responsibility of handling such cases. The current void left by the presiding magistrate’s removal and the subsequent delay in appointing a replacement is taking its toll on the efficient handling of environmental crime in Malta.

BirdLife Malta CEO Mark Sultana has written to the Chief Justice on the urgent need for the replacement of the magistrate handling environmental crime cases

The first letter, signed by BirdLife Malta CEO Mark Sultana, explains that the unforeseen situation has created a significant setback, as the backlog of pending cases continues to grow. Environmental crimes pose a severe threat to Malta’s natural heritage, and the lack of judicial oversight only exacerbates the problem.

Whilst further explaning BirdLife Malta’s close collaboration with the Malta Police Force to provide crucial information and evidence leading to the successful apprehension and prosecution of offenders in the law courts, and also that the NGO meticulously follows all cases in court, frequently being called upon to testify as witnesses, Mark Sultana continued to illustrate the urgency of the matter to the Chief Justice with a specific case.

Two months down the line, BirdLife Malta requests immediate attention by Chief Justice on urgent need for appointment of new magistrate to handle such cases

Recently BirdLife Malta encountered a distressing incident involving a Greater Flamingo that remains caged until the court determines the outcome of the case. As time passes and the legal process extends, the chances of the bird’s survival upon release diminish significantly. It is disheartening to witness the potential loss of such a magnificent creature due to avoidable delays in the court system.

Moreover, the letter continues, this situation casts a spotlight on Malta at European Union level, particularly when considering that Malta is currently facing infringement proceedings by the European Commission for its perceived lack of enforcement in environmental matters. Failing to address the issue promptly not only perpetuates a negative image for Malta but also undermines the country’s commitment to upholding environmental legislation and international obligations.

Following the first letter, the Chief Justice’s office replied that there will not be a replacement prior to the appointment of new magistrates. This unsatisfactory answer triggered the second letter in which BirdLife Malta expressed its concern that since most environmental crime cases have a short period to be heard, some might become time-barred. It would be wrong if justice is not served because of logistical and administrative shortcomings.

In light of all this, the Chief Justice was requested to give immediate attention to the matter and take promt action by ensuring the appointment of a replacement magistrate to handle environmental crime cases – something which is crucial to ensuring the swift administration of justice and the effective deterrence of environmental offences.

Read the Maltese version of the press release here.