Discriminatory notarial law addressed, 3 years after Constitutional Court ruling

Andrea Piacquadio (Pexels)

A provision which requires women to disclose their marital status on official contracts – while making no such imposition on men – which was found to be discriminatory by a Constitutional Court in 2017 is finally being addressed through a bill debated in Parliament on Tuesday.

The bill was approved in its second reading without a vote.

At present, Article 28 of the Notarial Profession and Notarial Archives Act, which specifies what each notarial act is required to include, specifies the personal details that each party involved must include, such as their name and address. But the article also adds that “where any of the parties to the act is a woman, it shall also be stated whether she is a spinster, a married woman or a widow.”

The provision is a remnant of the original act introduced back in 1927, but has survived numerous amendments. Article 28 was actually amended in 2018 – after the Constitutional Court ruling – but the offending provision was left unchanged.

It had been challenged by Marie-Therese Cuschieri, who had been informed that a contract she was party to could not be registered because she had not specified her marital status, and Judge Lorraine Schembri-Orland – who presently sits at the European Court of Human Rights – found in her favour. An appeal by the Attorney General was dismissed.

Earlier this year, the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality looked into the matter at the request of Nationalist Party MEP Roberta Metsola, with commissioner Renee Laiviera confirming the discriminatory nature of the law and lamenting the authorities’ foot-dragging.

Shortly afterwards, PN MPs Claudette Buttigieg, Therese Comodini Cachia, David Agius and Robert Cutajar presented a private members’ bill to do away with the British-era clause.

But the government opted to present a bill of its own instead. Its bill amends another article within the notarial law – which concerns the publication of secret wills – for similar reasons, but also amends the Code of Organisation and Civil Procedure, the Civil Code and the Public Registry Act.

Parliamentary Secretary for Equality Rosianne Cutajar, whilst thanking Buttigieg and Comodini Cachia for their efforts, said that amending the notarial law alone could create legal issues elsewhere.

Much more needed for gender equality – Buttigieg

Buttigieg welcomed the bill, whilst highlighting that it came about following a Court ruling. But in her contribution to the debate, she emphasised that there was a lot more to be done to achieve gender equality than the relatively brief bill being debated.

The MP recalled the government’s suggestion to decriminalise prostitution, which she has long criticised: in this, she joins numerous organisations proposing the so-called “Nordic model” which decriminalises prostitution whilst criminalising the buying of sex. She insisted that prostitutes should be empowered.

But Buttigieg also spoke at length about the recent report issued by GREVIO, the Council of Europe’s group of experts on domestic violence, which highlighted the need for urgent improvements in a number of measures.

 She insisted that whenever such reports are published, they should be properly debated in Parliament, and not simply laid before the house for anyone who may care to read it.