This post is intended for use with the Maltese Democracy walking tour and smart learning activities.
The Corte Captanale of Mdina (see featured photo) is the oldest Court of Justice in Malta, and consisted of the Criminal Court and the Civil Court. Its jurisdiction extended to all country districts outside the fortified towns of Mdina and later Valletta.
Appeal from the decisions of these Courts lay to the Board of Jurats called Universita’ who received the assistance of a lawyer, but whose advice they were not obliged to follow; and to the Supreme Tribunal of appeal, in Valletta, after the building of the new city.
The Criminal Court consisted of the Capitano di Verga, a Judge (who sat on both Courts), and the Advocate Fiscal.
1784: The first codification of the Laws of Malta was made by Grandmaster Emmanuel de Rohan. It sanctioned the publication of the Diritto Municipale di Malta, containing a synthesis of the state of the laws of the island during the rule of the Knights between 1530 and 1798.
Additional photo Sir Adrian Dingli (https://www.maltagenealogy.com/libro%20d%27Oro/dingli.html))
1854: Sir Adrian Dingli (Chief Justice 1880-1895) embarked on the colossal task of codifying the laws of Malta, following the model of the Code Napoleon.
1814: Governor Sir Thomas Maitland (Governor of Malta 1813-1824) abolished the Corte Capitanale, and concentrated in the Gran Castellania the following tribunals:
- the Grand Criminal Court
- the Grand Civil Court
- the Court of Administration of public Property
- the Commercial Court or Consolato di Mare
- the Supreme Tribunal of Appeal
Maitland’s key reforms:
- The jurisdiction of the Criminal Court of the Gran Castellano (up to now confined to cases occurring in Valletta and the Three Cities – Birgu, Bormla and Senglea) was extended to the entire island, as well as Gozo, which up to that date had its own Court of Law, the Corte Governatoriale.
- The previous Consolato del Mare (set up by the Knights in 1697) was turned into a Commercial Court on the British model. The Corte della Castellania was divided into two halls: one for the Criminal Court and one for the Civil Court.
- All judges were appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the King. They were appointed for life, until retirement or until suspended by the Governor.They had to take an oath of loyalty to the King and could not work privately as lawyers.
- Sentences passes by a judge in an open court were final.
- The Court of Appeal consisted of two halls, one for commercial, the other for civil cases. There was no appeal from the Criminal Court.
- The Governor and two judges constituted the final Supreme Court of Justice dealing with exceptional cases.
- The power of the Governor to reverse judicial decisions, a power practiced by the Grandmasters, was abolished.
- Italian was made the language of the Courts.
- The laws concerning corsairing, torture and slavery of Muslims were abolished, and these practices were declared illegal and punishable by imprisonment or by the death penalty.
By this time the current system has evolved from this.
Useful further links
- Sir Thomas Maitland, historically considered an autocratic ruler
- An early 19th century account of the island
Thomas Maitland image source: https://artuk.org/visit/collection/thirlestane-castle-trust-2634
Thomas Maitland copyright notice, (permission granted): https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/lieutenant-general-sir-thomas-maitland-17591824-governor-of-malta-18131824-211089#image-use