Our lawyers are actively following all the measures which are being put in place from time to time by the Maltese authorities in light of the COVID-19 outbreak in Malta. These measures are taking effect by means of various Legal Notices, each of which is explained hereunder.
Article 27(c) of the Public Health Act (Cap. 465) confers the necessary powers to the Superintendent of Public Health to prescribe measures to guard against or to control dangerous epidemics or infectious diseases.
Act X of 2020 amends sub-section 27(c)(v) to clarify that the power to ‘prescribe such other matter as the Superintendent may deem expedient for the prevention or mitigation of such disease’, granted to the Superintendent by virtue of the same sub-section 27(c)(v), shall include and shall be deemed to have always included the power to provide for any matter which is ancillary or consequential to an order issued under the same sub-section 27(c)(v), including the suspension of any time limits including, but not limited to, legal or judicial time limits, which include periods of prescription, and any peremptory time limits provided for in any other law, triggered by any order for the closure of government departments or other places from where public services are provided or of any other order issued under the same sub-section 27(c)(v), as the Superintendent deems expedient.
A new Article 44A was inserted in the Public Health Act intended to regulate the “Application of the Commissioners for Justice Act. Cap. 291”.
This new article brings any charge of a breach of any order given by the Superintendent listed in the Schedule to the Commissioners for Justice Act within the jurisdiction of the Commissioners for Justice and shall be tried accordingly. On conviction, any person charged with a breach shall be liable to a penalty of between one thousand Euro (€1,000) and ten thousand Euro (€10,000).
Where the person charged is not habitually resident in Malta, any penalty due in terms of the above shall be paid in its minimum through electronic means, that is credit card or other bank transfer, within twelve (12) hours from the time when the said person is notified of the charge and without proceedings before the Commissioner. During such time the Executive Police shall have the power to keep the said person in detention until payment is made. Where the said person contests such charge, or where no payment of the penalty is made, the case shall proceed in accordance with the provisions of the Commissioners for Justice Act.
Article 4 of the Emergency Powers Act authorises the President of Malta, acting in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister, to make regulations as appear to him to be necessary or expedient for securing the public safety, the defence of Malta, the maintenance of public order and the suppression of mutiny, rebellion and riot, and for maintaining supplies and services essential to the life of the community, all subject to the provisions of the Constitution of Malta.
This particular amendment brings ‘the public health’ within the scope of Article 4.
In this respect, regulations made under Article 4 may provide for empowering any such authority or persons to make order and rules for any of the purposes outlined hereabove, such as the orders currently being made by the Superintendent of Public Health for the purposes of guarding against and, or controlling dangerous epidemics or infectious disease, including the COVID-19 (or novel coronavirus) infectious disease.
Worth also noting that any regulation made under Article 4 and every order or rule made in pursuance of such regulations shall cease to have effect at the expiration of two (2) months from the date upon which it came into operation, unless approved by a resolution passed by the House of Representative prior to its expiration. Moreover, any such regulation, order or rule may be amended or revoked by a Resolution passed the House of Representatives at any time.
Consequence to the insertion of Article 44A to the Public Health Act, the following offences were added to the Schedule to the Commissioners of Justice Act.
This Legal Notice is intended to ensure that meetings of the Executive Council of the Planning Authority, including those meetings concerning applicants, owners, representatives, interested third-parties and members of the public to continue uninterruptedly notwithstanding any order for closure or any other measures taken by the Superintendent of Public Health or any authority, for the purposes of guarding against and, or controlling the COVID-19 infectious disease.
In this respect, the provisions with respect to the Executive Council of the Planning Authority found in the First Schedule to the Development Planning Act have been amended to provide for the possibility of the Executive Council to convene and conduct its own meetings using such electronic or other viable means of communication as it deems appropriate.
The Legal Notice also provides for those meetings in which the Executive Council is to consider minor modification to a planning control application, descheduling or a request for reconsideration of scheduling, to be convened and conducted through such electronic or other viable means of communication as the Executive Chairperson deems appropriate. In such cases, the applicant or the owner (in the case of requests for reconsideration from scheduling) and his representative, or any one of them, any interested third-party or any member of the public who, in the absolute discretion of the Executive Chairperson, is allowed to make submissions, shall be allowed to make such submissions through such electronic or other viable means.
Moreover, the Legal Notice was also intended to amend the provisions with respect to the Planning Board and the Planning Commissions found in the Second Schedule of the Development Planning Act. In this respect, meetings of the Planning Board may be convened and conducted through such electronic or other viable means of communications as the Chairperson deems appropriate. In such instances, the applicant and his representative, or any one of them, any interested third-party or any member of the public who, in the absolute discretion of the Chairperson, is allowed to make submissions, shall be allowed to make such submissions through such electronic or other viable means.
In any such situations, any reference to a quorum, any reference made to presence of, or voting by a member of the Executive Council or a member of the Planning Board at the meeting, as the case may be, shall be construed accordingly. Moreover, any such meeting held using electronic or other viable means of communication shall have the same effect at law as if the said meetings were not held through such means.
By virtue of this Legal Notice, the Minister for the Environment, Climate Change and Planning, after consultation with the Planning Authority, has extended, by an additional three (3) years, any development permits which, on the 27th of March 2020 were still valid, but which are due to expire by the 31st of December 2022.
This measure was introduced in the midst of other measures being introduced by the Maltese Authorities to contain the spreading of the novel coronavirus, in order to prevent developers and contractors from carrying out works in a hasty manner, resulting in undesirable calamities.