It is evident that we are indeed witnessing extraordinary occurrences and this even within the legal realm. Following the number of legislative publications, it can be rightfully said that the national legal procedures are at a complete standstill.
The past couple of weeks have shed light on various important amendments to the law in line with the COVID-19 worldwide pandemic. In fact Legal Notice 141 of 2020, is one of the numerous legal notices that were endorsed following the publication of Closure of the Courts of Justice Order.
The main scope behind such notice was to mend and solve any discrepancies and questions raised around the validity of the preceding legal notices published under Chapter 465 of the Laws of Malta.
Maltese Courts were suspended from service on the 16th March 2020 through the passing of Legal Notice 65 of 2020. With such closure, various debacles emerged as to prescriptive legal timeframes i.e. the limited time periods allowed to civil parties for the filing of a particular act in court. By effect, the days that followed such closure, introduced a set of extraordinary laws that would suspend these legal timeframes under the Public Health Act.
But why are these regulations viewed to shed light on (COVID-19 related) previous enacted legal notices? This is solely because this particular regulation has retrospective effect on all notions following the enactment of the previous regulations.
Additionally suspended terms have now been given a solider definition as this regulation specifies clearly what has indeed suspended.
These suspensions constitute in the following deferments:
- Prescriptive and peremptory periods imposed under substantive or procedural law.
- Time periods imposed by a decree or order of the courts, government department, government agency, or public authority.
- All time frames agreed in any private writing or public deed, including time periods set and agreed upon for the performance of obligations.
Nonetheless, such deferments may only apply if such legal obligation, whether imposed or agreed upon, has been directly impacted by the closure of our judicial and governmental bodies.
These regulations also addresses the extinguishment of such suspended periods once everything sets back to normal. In fact, the suspension of the first two categories mentioned above would become ineffective after 7 days following the lifting of the Court Closure Order and after 20 days of the lifting of the closure order in relation to all time-frames related to the third category.
Additionally and following various questions raised with regards to the notarial aspect within the legal sphere, Legal Notice 141 of 2020 highlights the suspension of:
- The imposed time frames on a notary public in connection to the payment of fiscal duties, fiscal benefits and exemptions pertaining to immovable property acts.
- The imposed time frames in connection to all information submission in connection to the exercise of the notarial profession.
- All periods in relation to promise of sale registrations as well as their expiry.
The suspension of the latter three categories shall cease all its effect on the 20th day following the lifting of the closure order.
All this being said, it is of key importance to note that following such suspending terms, all phases will continue to run from where it they were originally interrupted and not a fresh.
Of significant importance is the suspension of terms in a promise of sale agreement. Doubts arose, under the previous regulations, as to whether all terms in a promise of sale agreement were actually suspended or whether only the term of validity of the promise of sale agreement was suspended. A conflict between the Maltese and the English version didn’t help in the determination of this matter. In these new regulations, paragraph (e) of sub-regulation (4) of regulation 3 specifically state:
running of time with respect to the performance of any obligation contained in any deed or private writing, including a registered promise of sale agreement; and the running of time with respect to the expiration of any registered promise of sale agreement
Hence, the new regulations suspend all time frames within which any obligation has to be performed not only in a promise of sale agreement but also in:
a. a private agreement; or
b. a public deed