Malta: MFRR expresses concern at anonymisation of court judgements

ECPMF

07 December 2021

No Comments

The Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) together with Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has written to Prime Minister of Malta Dr. Robert Abela and Minister for Justice, Equality and Governance, Dr Edward Zammit Lewis to express concern about Legal Notice L.N. 456 of 2021 and the online publication of court judgements.

2 December 2021

Dear Prime Minister Dr Robert Abela,

Dear Minister of Justice Dr Edward Zammit Lewis,

 

We write in relation to Legal Notice L.N. 456 of 2021 regarding the online publication of court judgments, which codifies a highly problematic existing practice in Malta. We are concerned by its conferral of unfettered discretion upon the Director-General of Courts to decide upon an application for the exercise of the right of erasure of personal data from a court judgment published on the website of the Court Services Agency. This enables arbitrary decision-making that damages the right to information, unduly hinders journalists’ reporting in the public interest and undermines the separation of powers.

 

The principle of publicity of court proceedings, including the verdict, as protected under European human rights law and extensively developed in the European Court of Human Rights’ jurisprudence, is an essential means for realising the right to a fair trial and maintaining public confidence in the judiciary. In this regard, court reporting by journalists is crucial because it informs the public how justice is done. To fulfil this public interest role, journalists must be able to rely on a comprehensive record of fully published verdicts.

 

According to the Board of the Public Inquiry into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia:

 

There ought not only to be structures which guarantee adequate protection of the physical person but also by the State creating a favourable environment which allows [journalists] to exercise their profession in a secure and effective manner.

 

We recognise there may be legitimate reasons why certain judgments or parts thereof ought not to be public, for instance to protect the rights of minors among other things. However, we are highly concerned by this Legal Notice’s codification of the existing practice that bestows the Director-General of Courts, a non-judicial appointee without statutory autonomy who is appointed by and answers directly to the Minister of Justice, with full discretion to decide whether a judgment is partially anonymised or even removed from the public record altogether or never published in the first place. This now-codified practice calls into question the Maltese government’s commitment to transparency and the separation of powers.

 

Moreover, we consider it disingenuous to rely on the right to be forgotten as the motivation underlying this Legal Notice. This principle pertains to delisting from a commercial search engine, such as Google, under specific circumstances. This cannot be compared to the removal of personal data from an online service administered by the government that contains public records. The Court of Justice of the European Union’s attention for balancing this right to be forgotten with the need to ensure access to information that is in the public interest serves to further emphasise this point, particularly in relation to criminal records.

 

In light of these concerns, we urge you to rescind Legal Notice L.N. 456 of 2021.

Signed by:

ARTICLE 19

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)

European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)

Free Press Unlimited (FPU)

International Press Institute (IPI)

OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

This letter was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), an Europe-wide mechanism, which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries. This project provides legal and practical support, public advocacy and information to protect journalists and media workers. The MFRR is organised by an consortium led by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) with ARTICLE 19, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), Free Press Unlimited (FPU), the Institute for Applied Informatics at the University of Leipzig (InfAI), International Press Institute (IPI) and CCI/Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT). The project is co-funded by the European Commission. www.mfrr.eu

Read news by categories:

Related news

Support

“The evidence of crimes done by the Russian forces will become the textbook of Ukraine’s recent history” – Interview with a Ukrainian Journalist in Residence.

As part of our ongoing series of interviews with JiR fellows, we interviewed a Ukrainian journalist who is now in exile in Leipzig.

READ MORE
Feature

Slovenia: Media freedom groups back legislative efforts to depoliticise public media

Reform aimed at limiting political interference over RTV SLO faces upcoming referendum challenge.

READ MORE
Statement

Albania: Media pluralism and transparency concerns fuel deterioration in media freedom

Following a two-day fact-finding mission to Tirana on 17-18 November 2022, the partners of the Council of Europe’s Platform on Safety of Journalists today publish their findings on press freedom, media pluralism and the safety of journalists in Albania.

READ MORE
Statement

Italy: a call of support for Roberto Saviano, defendant in a defamation trial

Members of the Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe (CASE), with the support of the coalition’s Italian group and Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), express solidarity with Roberto Saviano who attended the first hearing in the proceedings for aggravated defamation initiated against him by current Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.

READ MORE
Statement

Bulgarian far-right party’s ‘foreign agent’ bill sparks media freedom concerns

Press freedom groups raise alarm that Bulgarian Foreign Agent law appears intended to target critical media.

READ MORE
Feature

Political pressure on journalists risks undermining media freedom progress in Kosovo

International media freedom and journalists organisations warn that while significant progress has been made in Kosovo, toxic rhetoric and smear campaigns against media, underfunding of public broadcaster and lack of transparency risk undermining the progress.

READ MORE