As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic in Malta in order to sustain the spread of the virus, the Maltese Government has introduced a number of measures affecting legal and judicial timeframes as well as the operations of the Maltese courts.
These measures came into effect by means of various Legal Notices, each of which is explained hereunder.
1. 13 March 2020, Legal Notice 61 and Legal Notice 65 of 2020
On 13 March 2020, Legal Notice 61 of 2020 was published, namely “Epidemics and Infectious Disease (Suspension of Legal and Judicial Times) Order, 2020”.
Legal Notice 61/2020 provides that where any Court of Justice is closed by order of the Superintendent of Public Health for the purpose of combating and controlling the spreading of epidemics or infectious disease, 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 (later defined in Legal Notice 97 of 2020 as 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 the Superintendent’s order.
The Order further provides 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 be requested to order the opening of the registry solely for a hearing of an urgent nature and those which are in the public interest. In such instances, the Court shall determine specific arrangements for controlling dangerous epidemics or infectious diseases.
Concurrently with L.N. 61 of 2020, Legal Notice 65 of 2020 “Closure of the Courts of Justice Order, 2020” was issued by virtue of which the Superintendent of Public Health ordered the closure of the Courts of Justice of Malta, including the superior and inferior courts, the appellate courts irrespective of their competence or jurisdiction, any tribunal established by law, and any boards, commission, committees or other entities before which any proceedings are heard or procedures undertaken which are subject to legal or administrative time limits for filing any claims, defences or other acts, together with the registry of those courts and tribunals. Such closure came into force as of the 16th March 2020 and shall remain indefinitely until revoked by the Superintendent.
2.1 – 18 March 2020, Legal Notice 84 of 2020
Legal Notice 61 of 2020 was further amended on 18 March 2020 by means of Legal Notice 84 of 2020 “Epidemics and Infectious Disease (Suspension of Legal and Judicial Times) (Amendment) Order 2020”, published on 18 March 2020, which clarified that the suspension shall also apply to prescription in criminal and civil matters.
2.2 – 23 March 2020, Legal Notice 97 of 2020
Legal Notice 97 of 2020 entitled “Closure of the Courts of Justice (Amendment) Order, 2020″, 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.”
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.
As a result, L.N. 65 of 2020 ordering the closure of the Courts of Justice now became applicable to designated courts as from the 16th of March 2020 and that L.N. 61 and L.N. 84 of 2020 are only applicable to those designated courts which operate from the building of the Courts of Justice
2.3 – 10 April 2020, Legal Notice 141 of 2020
The Maltese Government published on the 10th April 2020, Legal Notice 141 of 2020, namely the “General Provisions applying to the Suspension of Legal and Judicial Times Regulations, 2020”. This legal notice is to be read in conjunction with Chapter 609 of the laws of Malta, the Legal and Other Time Periods (Suspension and Interruption) Act.
Legal Notice 141 of 2020 is part of a series of laws, that were enacted following the publication of Closure of the Courts of Justice order, L.N. 65 of 2020 with the scope of regulating the standstill in the legal world, that has been cause by the COVID-19 outbreak.
By virtue of regulation 3(1) of the Regulations, the Minister for Justice has suspended the running of the following time periods:
- any substantive or procedural law time limit, including periods of prescription and peremptory periods;
- any time limit imposed by a decree or order of the courts, government department, government agency, or public authority;
- any time period imposed or agreed upon in any private writing or public deed, including time periods set and agreed upon for the performance of obligations. This, to the extent that the ability to perform the obligation that has been agreed upon, had been directly impacted by the closure of our judicial and governmental bodies.
The time periods referred to in the first two sets above shall resume following the lapse of seven (7) days from the lifting of the Regulations by the Superintendent for Public Health whereas those time periods referred to in the last point above shall resume following the lapse of the twenty days (20) from the lifting of these Regulations.
The Regulations further provide that the suspension provided for in regulation 3(1) shall also apply to the following matters:
- The running of all the legal periods imposed on a notary public by law to register any deed, will, act or private writing; or
- The running of any time period within which the notary public, in terms of any applicable law, must pay taxes collected by him in the exercise of his profession; or
- The running of any time period related to fiscal benefits, incentives, exemptions;
- The running of any time period within which a notary public is to submit any information and
- The running of time with respect to the performance of any obligation contained in any deed or private writing, including a registered promise of sale agreement; and the running of time with respect to the expiration of any registered promise of sale agreement.
Those time periods referred to in paragraphs (a) to (e) above shall resume following the lapse of the twenty days from the lifting of these Regulations by the Superintendent of Health.
The suspension of legal and judicial times catered for in the Regulations is effective from the 2nd April 2020.
Finally, it is important to note that the effect of this suspension of time does not cause an interruption of the term. This essentially means that following the return to normal days and hence following seventh or the twentieth day as per mentioned priorly, time continues to run from where it was stopped. It shall not run afresh.