Malta faces EU challenge for failing to recognize foreign-trained lawyers

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The European Commission has opened an infringement procedure against Malta for what it says is a failure to comply with obligations to recognize the qualifications of legal professionals from other Member States.

The commission announced the procedure in a note published this week, in which it indicates that Malta is not respecting its obligations under two directives, that on lawyers and the directive on the recognition of professional qualifications.

The two directives should allow lawyers to practice law in a Member State other than the one in which they obtained their qualifications and establish a general system for the recognition of professional qualifications throughout the European Union.

“The commission considers that Malta’s laws on the recognition of professional titles and professional qualifications for lawyers – with the systematic imposition of the Maltese bar examination – are not in line with the two directives,” she said.

“Furthermore, the committee also addresses Malta’s lack of automatic recognition of the professional title of lawyer issued in another Member State when the EU lawyer wishes to establish himself as a prosecutor.”

While lawyers from other Member States who wish to practice here can perform a limited number of functions as legal professionals, they must pass the Maltese bar examination in order to practice fully integrated into the legal system.

This ranges from sending a registered letter and signing an affidavit to representing someone in court.

Last year, the government passed a new law aimed at regulating the legal profession, dubbed the Lawyers Act.

However, this has been criticized as being focused on meeting Moneyval’s demands rather than serious reform of issues within the profession that need to be addressed.

The Chamber of Advocates said the version of the bill that made it into law was “watered down” and “not fit for purpose”, while the law students’ association Għaqda Studenti tal-Liġi called for a new “autonomous” law to regulate the profession of lawyer.

Malta now has two months to respond to the arguments put forward by the committee, failing which the European Union institution may decide to step up action.

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