The Civil Court is divided into four sections: the General Jurisdiction Section (also called the First Hall of the Civil Court), the Family Section, the Commercial Court Section and the Voluntary Jurisdiction Section.
FIRST HALL OF THE CIVIL COURT
This court, as the name implies — General Jurisdiction Section of the Civil Court — is the superior court which deals with all matters, civil and commercial, which are not by special provision of law assigned to be tried and determined by another court. Its jurisdiction increased dramatically after the suppression of the Commercial Court in 1995. It is also and more commonly known as the First Hall of the Civil Court.
Broadly speaking, all claims where the amount involved exceeds eleven thousand six hundred and forty six euros and eighty seven euro cents (Euro 11,646.87) fall to be tried by the First Hall of the Civil Court. So also are cases where the claim cannot be quantified in terms of value. Unless otherwise provided, an appeal lies from any decision of the First Hall of the Civil Court to the Court of Appeal.
The First Hall of the Civil Court is also the court which handles in first instance all cases dealing with allegations of violations of human rights, whether under the Constitution or under the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights as incorporated into Maltese law by virtue of the European Convention Act (Cap. 319). However in this case the appeal from the decision of the First Hall of the Civil Court is not heard by the Court of Appeal but by the Constitutional Court.
To date the First Hall of the Civil Court is also the court which deals with cases of judicial review of administrative action whereby administrative acts of the government or of any other public authority may be quashed. In practice it is also the court before which most applications for the issue of precautionary or executive warrants are brought, and is also responsible for the majority of judicial sales by auction of property.
One Judge sits in the First Hall of the Civil Court. At present there are seven Judges who are assigned to sit, separately, in this court. Up till recently, cases were assigned or distributed among these judges by the registrar on a roster basis. However, pursuant to powers conferred on the Chief Justice by Article 11 of the Code of Organisation and Civil Procedure (Cap. 12), certain cases are beginning to be assigned to judges according to the type of cases. This allows for greater specialisation by the Judge concerned.
In Gozo the Court of Magistrates (Gozo) in its Superior Jurisdiction has the same jurisdiction, powers and functions as are exercised by the First Hall of the Civil Court in Malta, but with some exceptions. Notable among these is that concerning allegations of violations of fundamental human rights: even if such a case emanates from Gozo, it must be brought before the First Hall of the Civil Court in Malta. An appeal lies from any decision of the Court of Magistrates (Gozo) in its Superior Jurisdiction to the Court of Appeal in Malta.
The Judges ordinarily sitting in the First Hall of the Civil Court are: the Hon. Mr Justice Anna Felice (Section President), the Hon. Mr Justice Robert Mangion, the Hon. Madam Justice Miriam Hayman, the Hon. Mr Justice Toni Abela, the Hon. Mr Justice Grazio Mercieca, the Hon. Mr Justice Francesco Depasquale and the Hon. Mr Justice Joanne Vella Cuschieri. The Magistrates ordinarily sitting in the Court of Magistrates (Gozo) in its Superior Jurisdiction are Magistrate Dr Monica Vella, Magistrate Dr Simone Grech and Magistrate Dr Brigitte Sultana.
This court is sometimes referred to as the Family Court. The present structure of the Family Section of the Civil Court came into being in December 2003, when the Civil Court was split up into three sections: the General Jurisdiction Section – also known as the First Hall of the Civil Court – the Family Section and the Voluntary Jurisdiction Section. Prior to this date matters concerning family relationships and duties were heard before the First Hall of the Civil Court, with certain preliminary procedures, however, having to be conducted before the Second Hall of the Civil Court (which is to-day called the Voluntary Jurisdiction Section of the Civil Court). Thus, for instance, if spouses wanted to separate they had first to obtain the consent of the Second Hall of the Civil Court. The Judge sitting in this court would attempt to reconcile the parties, and if reconciliation failed he would authorise them to proceed to the court of contentious jurisdiction, that is to go before the First Hall of the Civil Court, where the plaintiff would commence litigation by writ of summons. In December 2003 the Second Hall (now styled Civil Court, Voluntary Jurisdiction Section) ceased to have anything to do with separation proceedings, and instead compulsory mediation before specially trained mediators was introduced as part of the set up of the Family Section of the Civil Court.
The Family Section of the Civil Court deals with cases of annulment of marriage, personal separation, custody and maintenance of children (whether born in or out of wedlock), paternity and filiation, and matters which are regulated by the Child Abduction and Child Custody Act. Adoption, however, is dealt with by the Voluntary Jurisdiction Section of the Civil Court. The Judge sitting in the Family Section also has to approve deeds of personal separation, that is when the spouses agree to what is called “separation by mutual consent”. Even in this kind of separation, however, the spouses must first go before a mediator of this court.
In matters involving children the Family Section of the Civil Court can appoint an advocate to represent, and promote the best interests of, the children concerned notwithstanding that for the purpose of the litigation in hand they may be represented by one of the parents.
If any question arises whether a particular matter falls to be determined by the Family Section or by some other section of the Civil Court, such a question is referred by the registrar to the Chief Justice. The Chief Justice decides the matter, and no appeal lies from that decision.
In Gozo, matters which would be dealt with in Malta by the Family Section of the Civil Court are dealt with by the Family Section of the Court of Magistrates (Gozo) in its Superior Jurisdiction, with the same structure, including mediators, as in Malta.
Three Judges ordinarily sit, separately, in the Family Section of the Civil Court. At present these are the Hon. Madam Justice Abigail Lofaro (Section President), the Hon. Madam Justice Jacqueline Padovani Grima and the Hon. Mr Justice Anthony Vella. In Gozo, the Magistrates currently sitting in the Family Section are Magistrate Dr Monica Vella, Magistrate Dr Simone Grech and Magistrate Brigitte Sultana.
COMMERCIAL COURT SECTION
VOLUNTARY JURISDICTION SECTION
The Civil Court (Voluntary Jurisdiction Section) was established by the Civil Courts (Establishment of Sections) Order 2003, made by the President of Malta in terms of Article 2 of the Code of Organization and Civil Procedure (Chapter 12 of the Laws of Malta). This court was formerly styled Second Hall of the Civil Court.
One Judge sits in the Voluntary Jurisdiction Section of the Civil Court. In Gozo this section is part of the Court of Magistrates (Gozo) in its Superior Jurisdiction.
This court does not in principle hear and decide cases of a contentious nature. Its main function is to oversee and protect certain rights and interests, which for some reason or other are not exercised or not exercisable by the person to whom the right or interest appertains. It has jurisdiction to deal with applications relating to adoption, matters relating to trusts (under the Trusts and Trustees Act – Cap. 331 of the Laws of Malta), tutorship and curatorship and other administrators (including testamentary executors), interdiction and incapacitation, absentees, the depositing, opening and publication of secret wills, and declarations of the opening of succession. Any person who wants to accept an inheritance with the benefit of inventory or who does not want to accept an inheritance, has to file a note in this court. Requests for the taxation of fees due to notaries, advocates and legal procurators for extra-judicial services are also dealt with by this court. Under the Foster Care Act (Cap. 491) in the event of a disagreement between a foster carer and the accredited fostering agency in respect of any amendment to the foster care agreement, either party may refer the matter to the Voluntary Jurisdiction Section of the Civil Court, and the court “shall decide in the best interest of the child concerned” (Art. 24(6)).
Although no appeal lies from decrees issued by this court, any interested party who feels aggrieved can file an action before the First Hall of the Civil Court requesting that the decree be quashed.
At present two Judges ordinarily sit (separately) in the Voluntary Jurisdiction Section of the Civil Court: the Hon. Mr Justice Grazio Mercieca and the Hon Mr Justice Joanne Vella Cuschieri. In Gozo, the Magistrates ordinarily sitting in the Voluntary Jurisdiction Section of the Court of Magistrates (Gozo) in its Superior Jurisdiction are Magistrate Dr Monica Vella, Magistrate Dr Simone Grech and Magistrate Brigitte Sultana.