The Malta Maritime Forum agrees wholeheartedly with the suggestion made by Mr Justice Joseph Zammit McKeon in his “parting speech” when he said that the commercial section of the Law Courts ought to become strengthened with the allocation of additional judges and extended to have a dedicated maritime section amongst other areas.
The Forum considers that the country and its players in the maritime sector were and are fortunate enough to be served with very competent and dedicated judges who notwithstanding the challenges rise to the occasion despite not having any particular shipping specialisation before being promoted to the bench and despite not having sufficient human resources. Indeed, the Forum is informed that there are currently several Maltese lawyers who hold a Masters Degree in Maritime Law - around 86 alone from IMLI (IMO, International Maritime Law Institute), some of whom are already Magistrates or Judges. This bodes well in terms of the local availability of specialised legal experts to work in a specialised maritime court across all levels.
Nevertheless, such is the volume and complexity involving maritime legal cases that the situation calls for at least two dedicated judges to hear cases concerning a myriad of issues which sooner or later could find themselves before a Maltese Court. Indeed, cases involving carriage of goods, vessel registration, marine insurance, mortgages, judicial sales by auctions, court approved private sales, ship agency, pilotage, ship repair, salvage operations, towage operations, crew employment disputes, collisions or containerisation quite apart from arrests, the putting up of security to release from such arrests and other security measures, are commonplace and are becoming increasingly more technical with the ever-intensifying sophistication in international maritime law.
Of course, in light of the fact that Malta is a maritime centre of significant importance on a global scale representing every niche of the maritime sector forming intrinsic links in the chain of international trade, cases decided by the Maltese Courts have multiple international interests and every maritime case decided in Malta is invariably studied and analysed by numerous international maritime interests. Therefore, the call made by Mr Justice Zammit McKeon and fully supported by the Maritime Forum is complementary to the country’s role and aspirations to continue to serve the region and beyond as a centre of excellence in the maritime field. In fact, in light of the expense and breath of maritime cases, the increasing specialisation in international maritime law and the expectations of the industry, a dedicated maritime court is indeed a crucial requirement.