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Judge holds first sitting, says legal aid system should be reformed

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Judge Consuelo Scerri Herrera has held her first sitting this morning in a ceremony held at the Criminal Court.

The courthouse was packed. President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca, justice Minister Owen Bonnici and Transport and Infrastructure minister Ian Borg as well as lawyers, judiciary, family and assorted well-wishers from different points in Scerri Herrera’s 21 year career filed into Hall 22 as the new judge who will be presiding appeals from the courts of magistrates and jury trials gave thanks and reminisced on the highlights of her career so far.

In her speech, Scerri Herrera thanked her family for their support, in particular her father, the late judge Joseph Herrera who she said was the “icon of my life” in all things related to justice.

The new judge said that the time had come for the introduction of a more rigorous system of scrutiny to ensure only bona fide cases were prosecuted. It was not just to have people charged by the police just to play it safe. This would increase efficiency and reduce trauma as justice delayed is justice denied, she said. In addition, the punishment should be handed down close in time to the crime to maximise the punishment’s value said the judge.

“A good judge is one who applies the law correctly, a just judge is one who applies the law with justice,” Scerri Herrera said, adding that proportionality, belief in human dignity and knowledge of the realities of society at large were crucial attributes of good judges.

She noted with pride that she had left no backlog of cases to her successor.

Scerri Herrera’s strong work ethic was highlighted once again, with the judge starting to allocate sittings to cases from last year in order to deal with her workload and ensure justice in a reasonable time. “How can I be just if in my conscience I know that I created conditions which prevent the person from reintegrating himself into society?” the judge said this morning.

“I don’t feel that it is right that a person is condemned to prison and whilst his appeal is pending and he is on bail, he possibly reforms himself only to have his sentence confirmed. The first aim of punishment should not be to deter others and neither should it be retribution, but this aim should be rehabilitation.”

Judge Scerri Herrera touched upon many issues in her speech, including her wish for reform of the legal aid system to include a means test. There was also a need for a list of lawyers who specialise in criminal law so as to give the interrogated person the best assistance possible.

She hoped for closer collaboration between the probation services office and the criminal court, saying the priceless work done by officials is not given its due credit, as it is the “long arm of the court” and assists it in reaching its conclusions in many cases.

Scerri Herrera outlined the many improvements to the justice system since 2016, thanking the Prime minister for nominating her for this position. She also thanked her partner Robert Musumeci for his great patience for the hours she spends at her desk and thanked her loyal staff.

President of the Chamber of Advocates George Hyzler also gave a speech, noting that over her 21 years as magistrate Scerri Herrera had covered all aspects of the law. He praised her control in the courtroom and the timeliness of her judgments, as well as her efficiency and thirst for knowledge.

Scerri Herrera smiled and nodded with thanks.

But Hyzler didn’t shy away from criticising new members of the judiciary who were holding sittings in summer, saying this violated the rules of court, although he added, he admired their eagerness.

A reception was then held.

 

Original article found on The Malta Independent

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