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MALTATODAY 5 December 2021

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2 maltatoday EXECUTIVE EDITOR Matthew Vella Letters to the Editor, MaltaToday, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann SGN 9016 E-mail: Letters must be concise, no pen names accepted, include full name and address maltatoday | SUNDAY • 5 DECEMBER 2021 The 'right to forget' must be balanced with the 'right to know' Editorial ALONG with various other media houses and NGOs – including the Daphne Foundation; Lovin Malta; The Malta Independent; Access Info Europe; The Times of Malta; The Shift; Newsbook; and the In- stitute of Maltese Journalists (IĠM) – MaltaToday this week co-signed a letter to Prime Minister Robert Abela, expressing serious concerns with recent leg- islation that may im-pinge on fundamental human rights. The amendment in question is Legal Notice 456 of 2021: which would deny journalists and the general public the ability to research all past court judge- ments online, by giving the courts director unfettered power to delete them if so requested. The legal notice enshrines a practice which was already in force, in the most irregular of policies, claiming it chimed in with the 'right to be forgotten' originally included in the EU's General Data Protec- tion Regulation (GDPR). However, the 'personal data' referred to in GDPR does not extend specifically court judgments: and with very good reason. For court judgments cannot be treated in the same way as data arising from a newspaper article, a blog-post, or a social media web- site. In any democratic country, the rulings handed down by law courts do not attest merely to the verdict of any one specific case; collectively, they also en- shrine the all-important principle that: 'Justice must be done; and SEEN to be done.' As University IT law lecturer Antonio Ghio aptly put it in 2018: "Removal of personal data from an online service administered by Government, and which contains public records, especially court judg- ments, cannot be simply compared to de-listing from a search engine." This brings us to the problem with Legal Notice 456. In 2018, MaltaToday revealed that 22 such rulings had already been removed; and while the problem does not necessarily concern any of those particular cases – all of which were broadly aligned with all the usual reasons for a court ban on the publications of names – the fact remains that the director of the Maltese law-courts has hitherto enjoyed full discretion to process such requests, without any form of trans-parency or accountability whatsoever. Even Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis, in his reaction to our letter, admitted that: "this was already a practice, as people wrote to court agency, and ac- cording to principles, the Court decided whether to remove one's name or not from the website. We are simply defending those that maybe made a mistake 20 years ago and now are applying for a job…" But while that may even be the government's in- tention, in reality Legal Notice 456 does noth-ing but cement the status quo, by providing a legal frame- work for the Court Director to contin-ue unilaterally deciding such requests: alone, and with no discernible criteria, or established procedure, to justify the final decision. One does not need to even doubt the integrity of the present Court Director, to understand that such a situation could easily give rise to suspicion. The Chamber of Advocates, for instance, de-clared "we have full faith in [the director]. The issue in fact is not one of the person, but rather of a system that is misconceived, lacks proper checks and balances, and above all a regulation that is devoid of the detail re- quired to enable people to understand exactly what their rights are, and the principles that should guide the Director General in making certain determi- na-tions." Moreover – as pointed out in our joint letter – "the fact that the director-general is appointed by, and answers directly to the Justice Ministry, also raises concerns of conflicts of interest and the independ- ence of the role, and questions regarding the effective separation of powers, specifically, of the judiciary and the executive, which is an essential underpinning of democra-cy." This in turn cast doubts on Malta's commitment to transparency, particularly in the wake of the FATF's greylisting, which obliged the country to step up its control over dubious behaviour. For as reasonably argued by Josef Said, CEO of Konnekt Ltd: "The price paid is the erosion of collec- tive memory. It is generally in the common interest for information to be freely available. While some people might find their lives blighted by unfair online distortion, many of those who request to be forgot- ten have something nefarious to hide. I believe that I should be able to search for, and find fraudsters, crooked business-people and criminals." Above all, however, Legal Notice 456 also compro- mises fundamental human rights, as it de-nies ordi- nary citizens the right to know and inhibits access to information that is in the public interest: as, by defini- tion, are all court judgments. And this, ultimately, is why virtually all of Malta's media landscape has converged on a single demand: that "the legal notice should be revoked." 4 December 2011 No justification for Armier substation AN €82,000 substation proposed by Enemalta to secure a reliable electricity supply to the illegal shacks in Armier is set to be turned down by the Malta Environment and Plan- ning Authority. The Planning Directorate is advising the MEPA board to turn down the application in a meeting scheduled on 6 January because its approval will benefit illegal developments in the area. "There is no reason, from a planning point of view, as to why the substation should be per- mitted, considering how the proposed structure is aimed to provide services to beach rooms which are used as illegal holiday homes pro- posed to be demolished through the Structure Plan Policies," the Case Officer report calling on MEPA to refuse the controversial application states. The Planning Directorate also declared that the proposed development runs counter to Structure Plan Policies REC9 and REC12, which encourage the removal of illegal structures in coastal areas and on government land respec- tively. The proposed substation would be covering a total floor area of about 40m² with an overall height of four metres. Although the site is not located within Natura 2000 site, its surroundings are designated as a Special Area of Conservation. An appropriate environmental assessment carried out by the Environmental Directorate states that this proposal will result in the take up of further rural land and would be servicing illegal beach rooms. When asked to justify the project, Enemalta's architect acknowledged that the substation was meant to address the low voltage problem at Armier. According to Enemalta, the structure was meant to provide adequate electrical distribu- tion, not only to current beach rooms but also to future developments. But the case officer contends that "it is unlike- ly that further development will be take place and hence there is no valid planning reason as to why this development should be permitted." Quote of the Week "The S&D's MEPs are certainly not pleased about the EPP's pretension that the next half of the legislature's presidency should be turned over to Roberta Metsola." Labour MEP Alfred Sant on the EPP's expectations to install Roberta Metsola to the post of EP president MaltaToday 10 years ago

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