In the light of the extraordinary and unprecedented circumstances brought about by the Covid-19 Pandemic, the Government, in agreement with the judiciary and the pertinent organs of the State, ordered the closure of the law courts and their registry and, since individuals would thus not be in a position to file judicial acts in court, ordered the suspension of the running of any prescriptive or peremptory time frames.
Similarly, the registration and validity of certain agreements and acts was regulated and, in some cases, extended in virtue of the introduction of legislation to this effect.
The following are the main enactments which regulate the above-mentioned aspects:
Legal Notice 61 – Epidemics and Infectious Disease (Suspension of Legal and Judicial Times) Order, 2020
In virtue of this Legal Notice published on the 13th March 2020, the Superintendent of Public Health inter alia established that should the Courts of Malta be closed for the purpose of guarding against and, or controlling dangerous epidemics or infectious disease, such closure will have the effect of suspending 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 said courts, provided that the court would still be empowered to order the opening of its registry, the hearing of any case and anything consequential and incidental thereto in urgent cases or in cases where it deems that the public interest in having the case heard should prevail.
This legal notice thus reserves the court’s power to order the opening of the registry and/or the hearing of cases in urgent cases or if it is in the public interest. Establishing what is urgent etc is left within the court’s discretion.
For instance the former Chief Justice ordered, in virtue of the provisions of this proviso, the hearing of a number of appeals which had been adjourned for judgment to the 27th March 2020, as it was deemed to be in the public interest to deliver the said judgments before his retirement so as to avoid that the cases would have had to be heard afresh.
Legal Notice 65 – Closure of the Courts of Justice Order, 2020
In virtue of this Legal Notice published on the 13th March 2020, the Superintendent of Public Health ordered the closure of the Courts of Justice and the registry with effect from the 16th of March, 2020, which order is to remain in force until it is revoked.
Legal Notice 75 – Suspension of Legal Times relating to Promise of Sale Agreements, Notarial and other related matters (Epidemics and Infectious Disease) Order (2020)
In virtue of this Legal Notice published on the 17th March 2020, when the Superintendent of Public Health orders the closure of all courts for the purpose for the purpose of guarding against and, or controlling dangerous epidemics or infectious diseases, the running of all legal terms imposed on a notary public to register any public deeds and private writings, pay or collect taxes and to submit information to the relevant authorities pursuant to a notarial activity, as well as any term related to fiscal benefits, incentives or exemptions and the expiration of any term of a duly registered promise of sale agreement with the Commissioner of Revenue, shall be suspended whilst the order for closure is in force without the need of any signatures or formal renewals by the parties. Such suspension shall last for twenty days following the repeal of any such order by the Superintendent.
This Legal Notice repealed Legal Notice 43 – Epidemics and Infectious Disease (Suspension of legal times relating to promise of sale agreements, notarial and related matters) Order, 2020.
Legal Notice 97 – Closure of the Courts of Justice Order, 2020
In virtue of this Legal Notice published on the 23rd March 2020 the Superintendent of Public Health amongst others extended the closure “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” and suspended 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”.
Act XXIII of 2020 Legal And Other Time Periods (Suspension And Interruption) Act (Chapter 609 of the Laws of Malta)
In virtue of this Act, published on the 2nd April 2020, the Minister responsible for Justice has been empowered, without prejudice or limitation to any power of the Superintendent for Health to issue orders suspending any legal, contractual or other time limits, to make such regulations in connection with the running of times that may be deemed necessary in the case of the closure of any or all of the entities, departments or offices listed in the Act.
Legal Notice 137 – Code of Organization and Civil Procedure (Amendment of Schedule A) Regulations, 2020
In virtue of this Legal Notice published on the 3rd April 2020, the Minister for Justice amongst others provides that in the case of the closure of the Courts for grounds akin to those envisaged in LN 65 and LN 97 of 2020, there shall be a waiver of the fees that would normally have been due in connection with request for the opening of the court registry, requested on any working day during the opening hours established by law, for the filing of proceedings, judicial acts or warrants in respect of actions for personal separation, divorce, annulment, maintenance, filiation, paternity, child abduction or custody.
Essentially in virtue of this Legal Notice certain proceedings and the filing of judicial acts in connection with them will not attract the fee that is usually attached to an application for the opening of the court registry, provided these are filed during normal working days and working hours, i.e. if something is filed in the weekend or out of the normal opening hours of the registry it will still attract the fee.
Legal Notice 141 – General Provisions applying to the Suspension of Legal and Judicial Times Regulations, 2020
In virtue of this Legal Notice published on the 9th April 2020, the Minister following the closure of the courts order in terms of LN 97 of 2020, suspends the running of any time period under substantive or procedural law (including any prescription or peremptory period) and decreed or ordered by the court or any governmental or public authority, which shall remain suspended for seven days following the lifting of the said order by the Superintendent of Public Health, whereas any time period established in any agreement effecting the parties’ performance obligations resulting from such closure shall remain suspended for twenty days following the said lifting.
This twenty days’ suspension shall apply to the time-limit imposed on the notary to register deeds, wills, acts or private writings, to pay taxes and to submit information and documentation to the relevant authorities. Such suspension shall also apply to time periods of fiscal benefits, incentives and exemptions, and of performance of obligations contained in deeds or private writings including the registering and expiration of promise of sale agreements.
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