Maltese law governing the notarial profession was found to discriminate against women by forcing them to disclose their marital status on official contracts whilst making no such imposition on men, the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality ruled.
The NCPE looked into the matter on the request of PN MEP Roberta Metsola, and following an investigation, Equality Commissioner Renee Laiviera urged Parliament to introduce the necessary amendments to put an end to the discriminatory practice.
Metsola concurred with Laiviera, stating that Parliament should act quickly to send a sign that discrimination against women should end once and for all. Metsola later issued a joint statement with the party’s equality spokesperson Claudette Buttigieg, revealing the party’s plans to file a private members’ bill to that effect.
Provision introduced in 1927 left unchanged
The law in question is the Notarial Profession and Notarial Archives Act, with Article 28 – which specifies what each notarial act is required to include – flagged as the offending provision.
As one may expect, each notarial act must include certain personal details – such as name and address – of each party involved, 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.”
That provision had been included when the act was introduced in 1927. Though the act has been amended numerous times since then, the 93-year-old provision remained unchanged.
Constitutional Court ruling not addressed
In her request, Metsola highlighted a Constitutional Court case initiated 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. She felt that she was being discriminated against, since men were not required to do the same.
In 2017, Judge Lorraine Schembri-Orland – who presently sits at the European Court of Human Rights – ruled in her favour. The Attorney General appealed the ruling, but this appeal was dismissed.
Though Article 28 itself was actually amended in 2018, the clause requiring women to disclose their marital status was once more left untouched.
Foot-dragging ‘no longer acceptable’
Contacted during the NCPE’s investigations into the matter, Notarial Council president Clinton Bellizzi said that the council was in full agreement with the court ruling and Metsola’s request. He added that the council itself had long called for various anomalies within the law to be addressed.
Laiviera herself stated described the Court ruling as just and well-studied, but also questioned why nothing has happened since then.
“It is hard to understand how the authorities concerned, faced with a definitive sentence from a Constitutional Court that found a breach of fundamental rights resulting from the laws of the state, remain complacent and are yet to introduce important amendments which in a few words would put an end to a situation where the law itself is in breach of the law,” she said.
The commissioner said that she would closely be following developments on the issue, stating that she was making it clear “that the dragging of feet on doing that which is right is no longer acceptable.”