If one had to point out two important moments in the history of female emancipation in our country, those would probably be the granting of the right to vote to women in 1947 and the appointment of Agatha Barbara as President of Malta. Those two episodes remain enshrined with pride in our collective memory and I am proud that both of them are intimately connected with the history of the Labour Party.
Earlier this week we witnessed the realisation of another important milestone in quest for more gender balance in Malta in key institutions. Following the appointment of three new judges and three new magistrates, for the first time in our long legal history, the number of women in the Judiciary now exceeds the number of male members.
Five years ago, the situation was completely different. Back then only 35% of the Judiciary was made up of female members. This has now shot up to 51% (23 female members as opposed to 22 men). Such an improvement does not happen by itself. It happens because there is a Government which positively employs policies to iron out the gender imbalance which unfortunately is seemingly inherent in all our main institutions.
Of course, this achievement did not happen in a vacuum. In the past legislature, the Government appointed a very respected female politician to serve the country in its highest role- that of President of Malta. Also in the past legislature a woman judge wrote history when presiding over a trial by jury.
More needs to be done. This is not enough. However the fact that out of the three organs of the state, one of them contains more female members than male is indeed good news.
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Going back to the judicial system, the appointment of these six judges and magistrates which follows that of the Chief Justice, has clearly placed on the forefront the commitment of all parties involved to decrease the backlog, whilst providing a high quality service and to improved efficiency. Someone told me that probably never before in our legal history six new members of the judiciary were appointed at once and at one go. I do not know whether this is correct or not, but I do not recall any other instances to be honest.
During the swearing in ceremony it was very refreshing to hear that all the new appointees mentioned their intention to roll up their sleeves and get to work immediately, a clear indication that there is a general understanding for the need to give our citizens the quality of service they deserve. The three new Judges will certainly improve the efficiency in three crucial Courts – the Criminal Court, the First Hall Civil Court and the Family Court. Also, for the first time in our history, a third Judge will be assigned to the Family Court thus increasing the complement from two Judges up to three.
This year’s Justice Scoreboard has shown that Malta has recorded the best clearance rate when it comes to civil, commercial and administrative cases from across all countries meaning that in terms of the number of cases decided compared to the number of cases which are opened, our country is the most efficient throughout the whole European Union.
Through changes brought in the last couple of years, Malta has proven time and again that our country has an ever-growing motivation and aspiration to keep on achieving more positive results and the results achieved so far provide us the drive to keep on doing more and our commitment is to keep on working to strengthen the administration of Justice. I am sure that the new six members of the judiciary will serve our country with distinction.
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Parliament this week approved at committee stage a bill which will provide protection to two categories of vulnerable lessees who, until now, were facing testing times and uncertainty.
The debate, in all honesty, was a bit surreal. The Opposition was anything but united in what we were trying to legislate upon. Some members were enthusiastically supportive while others seemingly voted in favour only to appear united at least as far as the vote is concerned.
Of course, when legislating in matters of property rights it is very hard to strike a balance between the need to protect genuine lessees and the right of owners to basically employ their property in a way which earns them the best possible financial outcome.
In this case we legislated to provide protection to the following vulnerable lessees:
a small percentage of elderly people who reside in their homes on the basis of a particular law which was passed in 1979;
Through the new law, the elderly people which I have just mentioned will have their minds at rest to keep residing in their homes throughout the rest of their lives. The owners, on the other hand will receive a higher rent (2% of the value of the property). Had we chosen to turn a blind eye to this reality, most elderly people would have ended out on the street since the 1979 law has been repeatedly declared to be unconstitutional since it fails to adequately provide for a fair rent to be given to the owners. With regards to band clubs, we have now constructed a new safety net whereby band clubs which have been in existence for at least 30 years are offered protection in case they end up without a title. In return, the amount of rent to be paid will shoot up considerably.
Of course, we will find lessees who will be unhappy for the rent increase that they will have to undergo. We will also find owners who will disagree with this legislative intervention. We are a Government which intervenes when absolutely necessary, which takes decisions, which does not shy away from shouldering responsibilities.