Whilst most of Malta is adapting to teleworking and many people have been pondering about how many meetings could have ultimately been an email, the closure of the Court Registry has left many lawyers and notaries wondering about what procedure to adopt when a client's promise of sale agreement is going to expire while the Court Registry is closed.
Under normal circumstances, prior to the expiration of a promise of sale agreement, either party must send a judicial letter calling upon the other party to appear on the final deed of sale. If the dissenting party still refuses the law states that a court case must be filed within 30 days from the promise of sale's expiry.
The procedure laid down by the law is draconian and it is the only legal mechanism which keeps a promise of sale 'alive'. Failure to either send a judicial letter or to open the subsequent court case will result in the party's loss of the rights emanating from the promise of sale, and consequently to the parties returning to the status quo ante that is, returning to the legal position the parties were in prior to the signing of the promise of sale.
When the Courts closed on the 16th of March 2020, lawyers and notaries across Malta were left wondering whether the suspension of the legal time-frames applicable because of the court closure are also applicable to the procedure for enforcing a promise of sale agreement, or whether the filing of the judicia letter and subsequent court case could be considered as an urgent matter and therefore required an application to the Court requesting the Court to open the Court Registry with urgency.
Some also argued that once the Court Registry was closed, the judicial act could be filed on the first working day, that is on the first day on which the Court Registry re-opens, a procedure similar to the one adopted when the expiration of the promise of sale falls on a Saturday or a Sunday.
However this legal conundrum was rectified with the introduction of Legal Notice 75 of 2020. The Legal Notice states that when the Superintendent of Public Health orders the closure of the courts, the expiry term of a promise of sale is automatically extended by 20 days starting from the date in which the Court re-opens. This legal extension also applies to the registration of all notarial acts, to the payments of the relevant taxes paid on a deed, to any fiscal and other financial benefit and to the submission of any documentation or information to a competent authority.
The law gives a wide interpretation of what is to be considered as Court, and also includes all Inferior and Superior Courts, the Court of Appeal, and all boards, commissions, tribunals committees and all other adjudicating bodies in front of which procedures subject to legal and administrative time-frames for the filing of documents apply.
The current situation has also opened up other debates, the most prominent being whether in a world of teleworking and in which all across the economic spectrum various industries are digitising, should the filing of court applications and documents be done remotely using the legal professional's E-ID access on the e-courts website once similar systems exist and work efficiently as can be attested by the Planning Authority's online filing system. Such a system would not only be essential in times of crisis, and would effectively keep an essential arm of our judicial system, the Court Registry, running despite the Court's closure, but would also automatically extend the ridiculous opening hours of the Court Registry, once filing of judicial acts would be possible without the need to have administrative staff physically present.