Legal Reforms

Commission of Piracy : On the 1st February of 1815, the Royal Commission instituted a tribunal for the trial in Malta of piratical offences according to the rules and practice of English Courts. Such power emanated from the Sovereign but was restricted by law. The law formerly under a statute of the 11th/12th year of William III held that in a trial of this kind judges possess a double capacity of judges and jurors both with regard to fact and law, however issues of fact were removed from the scenario in virtue of an Act of Parliament, and the whole trial should proceed in the normal form of Grand and Petty Jury.

It appears clear that the issue of the Commission of Piracy to Malta meant the introduction of the English system of trial by jury in the Island, limited, however to pirate offences. Maitland was not particulary enthusiastic of this reform; he believed that the Maltese mentality was not yet befitting the beneficial effects of the English Courts, but hoped that this 'experiment' would lead eventually to the desired results, and possibly expansion to the whole system and not in such a limited sphere.

Law of Organisation and Civil Procedure : One of the first important amendments to the law of procedure introduced by Maitland referred to the mode adopted for the taking of depositions of persons about to leave the Islands or being aged or infirm in mind. The old procedure left much to be desired, and was contrary to fairness and obstructed substancial justice. Proclamation seven of 1815 provided for Commissioners11, to take depositions and provided for a Special Commission to hear deposition outside the jurisdiction of the Islands.

More attention was diverted to the naming and designation of parties to a suit, and furthermore a rigid approach to corrections to any petition lodged was imposed. The Proclamation laid down in detail which sentences or decrees were appealable and provided for a definite timing for the issue of executive warrants, together with precautionary warrants of arrest or impediment against the departure of any ship or person, requiring the creditor to give security to the Court Registrar and to institute proceedings without delay.

Proclamations five and nine of 1815, selected six nobleman to be appointed as civil superintendents on the six districts, and that evidence should be taken viva voce. Proclamation ten of 1822 was also important in the sense that it laid down the criteria for cases which were considered to be as deserted, in order to avoid arrears of cases. Bankruptcy : Due to the strong mercantile presence in Malta, Bankruptcy Law was given importance early on in Maitland's period. Maltese law gave no protection to honest traders nor set penalties and punished illicit trading, so much so that the country's economic trade was withering.

Proclamation fifteen of 1815 laid down new and defined rules as to the application of bankruptcy and the rights and duties of creditors and debtors, and also nominated two commissioners for general supervision. The Public Registry and the Hypothecary System : The new law upheld that no claim of any kind of hypothecary or contractual nature could be substantiated unless the contract from which it emanates is registered in the Public Registry in Valletta and in Rabat, Gozo.

A further proclamation12 upheld that only immovable property was to be bound by hypothec, and a Court judgment shall confer to the creditor the right of hypothec upon the immovables of the debtor, from the date of registration. Mortmain Law : Acquisition of property by the Church and other Pious Institutions would have the effect of withdrawing disposable land, and Proclamation 23 of 1822 laid down that no lands or tenements were to be acquired by such institutions except and under the express and positive condition that they be sold or disposed of within one year, in default these fall ipso facto under government control.

Sanctuary : In order to remedy certain abuses in the exercise of the right to sanctuary, Proclamation 7 of 1817 laid down that a warrant of arrest could be lawfully executed at any hour, day or night, against any person, who after having taken refuge in the precincts of any church or similar structure, was found beyond the limits of such precinct, except on a Sunday or Holiday of precetto intero. Appeals to the Privy Council: Proclamation 30 of 1822 paved the way for the securing of the right to appeal to all His Majesty's subjects and other individuals resident in Malta, and without any limitations13, which right was granted after 1823.

Sir Thomas Maitland died on the seventeenth of January 1824, seized by a fit of apoplexy at the house of his friend Mr. Le Mesurier, at Floriana. On the twenty first of the month he was laid to rest at the Upper Barracca, solemnified by a simple cross which covers the mortal remains of a man who whatever his faults did much for the legislative and social improvement of the Maltese Islands.

Bibliography

'Maltese Legal History Under British Rule (1801-1836)' Hugh W. Harding B. A. , LL. D. 'British Malta', Vol. 1 Malta Government Printing Office 1938 A. V. Laferla http://www. angelfire. com/mp/memorials/Malta/maltaMaitland.

htm 1 Walter Frewen Lord 2 T. Fisher Unwin 1897; pg. 24 3 Secretary of the State, 28th July 1813 4 In a letter of the 15th of August 1814, the Under-Secretary writes: " No application will be made to the Court of Palermo regarding pretended suzerainty: all the Powers of Europe acknowledge the King's right to Malta and have recognised that island as forming part of the British Dominions". 5 Prior to this the practice was that benefices were filled by alternative nomination of the Pope and of the Bishop of Malta. 6 Consisting of its President, of one of the Civil, and one of the Criminal judges.

Consisting of the Governor, the Public Secretary and two judges 8 Qormi 9 Correspondence letter dated 9th April 1915 10 Maitland also sought to encourage the study of the English language, in accordance with the directions of the secretary of state he laid down that no one could be permitted to act as an Advocate, Notary or Legal Procurator unless he could read, write and speak english. All petitions addressed to the Government were to be written in English, which also was the language of government contracts; government posts would also be preferably filled by such who knew English – Minute 17th May 1820